As expected, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced his health care reform bill today after months of negotiating with three Democrats and three Republicans on his committee, dubbed the Gang of Six.
“This is a unique moment in history where we can finally reach an objective so many of us have sought for so long,” Baucus said in a statement today.
The Finance Committee mark up is scheduled to begin Sept. 22. Considered a more moderate alternative to the health care bills produced in the House and the Senate HELP Committee, the Baucus bill eschews the public insurance option in favor of creating membership-run nonprofit cooperatives to compete with the private insurance companies. The bill contains many of the other reforms endorsed by President Obama in his speech to Congress last week, including creating a state-based exchange through which individuals and small businesses could obtain insurance; providing tax credits for lower-income individuals and small businesses to help offset the cost of premiums; and requiring that most U.S. citizens and legal residents purchase health insurance or have health coverage through their employer.
According to Baucus, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the bill at $856 billion over 10 years. Baucus said the bill will be fully paid for without adding to the federal deficit. To offset the cost, the bill calls for imposing a 35 percent tax on high-value insurance plans and new fees on insurers and other industry players.
The unveiling of the Senate Finance Committee’s bill has prompted renewed grousing from both sides of the aisle. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the committee’s ranking member, has spent months at the bargaining table as one of the Gang of Six, but signaled this week he will not vote for the end product.
“Unfortunately, we’re operating under an artificial deadline set by the Democratic leadership and the White House,” Grassley said in a Sept. 15 statement. “I’m disappointed because it looks like we’re being pushed aside by the Democratic leadership so the Senate can move forward on a bill that, up to this point, does not meet the shared goals for affordable, accessible health coverage that we set forth when this process began.”
Grassley said he still has concerns that federal funds could be used for abortions, that illegal aliens could receive subsidies to help obtain insurance, and that medical liability reform measures aren’t tough enough.
The other two Republican members of the Gang of Six, Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), haven’t yet said whether they will support the Finance bill, though many observers have said Snowe is probably the only hope for a bipartisan bill.
Meanwhile, liberal Senate Democrats are also balking at the Baucus bill. Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) told reporters Sept. 15 he won’t support the bill in its present form. Rockefeller has been pushing hard for a government-run public option and also opposes the excise tax on high-value health insurance plans included in the Finance bill. What do you think of the long-awaited bill unveiled by Sen. Baucus? How should the Senate proceed in the absence of Republican support for the bill?
The full text of the chairman’s mark … Reaction to the bill from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell … Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is skeptical about Senate plan (subscription required).