August Baucus vs. April Baucus

AUGUST BAUCUS VS. APRIL BAUCUS…. Do you want to get really depressed about the debate over health care reform? Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus, chairmen of the Senate HELP and Finance Committees, respectively, sent this letter (pdf) to President Obama in April:

“For nearly a year, we have been working together toward the shared goal of significant reforms to our health care system. We must act swiftly, because the cost of inaction is too high for individuals, families, businesses, state and federal governments. Comprehensive health care reform legislation will responsibly contain costs, improve quality, enhance disease prevention, and provide coverage to all Americans. We are committed to working with you, and with our colleagues in Congress, to enact legislation to achieve these long-overdue reforms without delay. We are writing to you today to let you know of the schedule for committee action that we intend to follow to meet this goal.

“Since our committees share jurisdiction over health care reform legislation in the Senate, we have jointly laid out an aggressive schedule to accomplish our goal. Both committees plan to mark-up legislation in early June. Our intention is for that legislation to be very similar, and to reflect a shared approach to reform, so that the measures that our two committees report can be quickly merged into a single bill for consideration on the Senate floor.

“The unprecedented level of funding devoted to health care reform in your budget this year leaves no doubt about your commitment to the goals of expanding coverage, reducing costs, and improving health and health care. We have a moral duty to ensure that every American can get quality health care. We must act to contain the growth of health care costs to ensure our economic stability; to help American businesses deal with the health care challenge; and to make sure that we are getting our money’s worth. With your continued leadership and commitment, and working together, we remain certain that our goal of enacting comprehensive health care reform can be accomplished with the urgency that the American people rightly demand.” [emphasis added throughout]

Max Baucus really did sign his name to this letter. Indeed, it’s often overlooked, but the original plan was to have the Finance Committee bill done first, with swift action immediately thereafter — which would be easy since the HELP Committee would be on the same page.

It was sent to the White House just four months ago.

Of course, we now know that Baucus’ committee a) is going last, if it goes at all; b) barely tried to meet its June deadline; and c) has veered sharply to the right, away from the HELP bill, thanks to the efforts of the Gang of Six, which has placed Republican support for reform above all else.

And while Baucus agreed in April that lawmakers must “act swiftly,” “without delay,” and “with swift action,” Baucus now believes that his own Sept. 15 deadline for his committee — already three months past the original target date he set for himself — should be ignored.

Worse, in November, Baucus talked in some detail about the kind of reform bill he wanted to see. His vision included a Health Insurance Exchange, universal coverage, an individual mandate, a public option, and subsidies up to 400% of the poverty line. And he was prepared to deliver it — after all, as he noted in his letter, he’d been working on it with Kennedy for a year. Baucus, at the time, supported the same kind of reform progressive Democrats now want, but which Baucus’ committee won’t support due to opposition from the Republican minority.

So, what happened? Kennedy, obviously, fell ill and was unable to complete his work, but Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) capably picked up the slack and delivered an excellent bill, right on time. Baucus, meanwhile, proceeded to take a far different direction in order to work on finding a “bipartisan” solution with conservative members of the discredited minority that doesn’t support health care reform.

Can we trade the August Baucus for the April Baucus? Just ask Baucus to recommit himself to the work he’d done before “bipartisanship” became the most important thing?

If so, we’d have a very good shot at a very good bill.