Baucus has a plan

BAUCUS HAS A PLAN…. Four of the five congressional committees working on health care reform finished their work in July. The political world has been waiting, with various degrees of patience, for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to produce a bill.

After a year of planning, and months of negotiations, Baucus finally began circulating a bill yesterday, including the chairman’s idea of how to pay for it. Is the plan any good?

In a last effort to give the Senate a bipartisan health care bill, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee circulated a comprehensive proposal on Sunday to overhaul the health care system and proposed a new fee on insurance companies to help pay for coverage of the uninsured. […]

The proposal by Mr. Baucus does not include a public option, or a government-run insurance plan, to compete with private insurers, as many Democrats want.

That’s not surprising — Baucus, after promising earlier this year to fight “tooth and nail” for a public option, has been signaling his intentions to scrap the idea.

If the public option is out, what’s in? Well, the Baucus plan offers subsidies up to 300% of the poverty level. That’s far less than the 400% level urged by most reform advocates — and creates the very real possibility of forcing Americans to pay for expensive coverage they won’t like.

The package would cost between $850 billion to $900 billion over 10 years, which is a little low, but far better than the $700 billion we’ve heard bandied about. It not only excludes a public option, but also a “trigger.”

Baucus would finance his plan with a tax on insurance companies’ most expensive policies (the “Cadillac” plans), an idea first recommended by Democratic Sens. Schumer, Rockefeller, and Stabenow.

OK, so the Baucus plan is obviously far short of other Democratic proposals, but at least it’s a proposal that could garner bipartisan support, right? It’s not everything reformers hoped for, but it’s a “consensus” bill, right? Wrong. This scaled-back proposal, according to reports this morning, “apparently” isn’t enough to satisfy the demands of Sens. Grassley and Enzi.

So, let me get this straight. Max Baucus has worked for months on a watered-down plan intended to curry favor with conservatives. He’s finally circulating his proposal, which he could have unveiled a long time ago, and which Republicans still won’t like.

If the Senate minority isn’t going to support Baucus’ plan anyway, then maybe Baucus ought to push a better bill.