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Barack Obama
"Lincoln Sells Out Slaves"
by: Rob Kailey - Sep 13
1 Comments
If You Haven't Seen This
by: Rob Kailey - Apr 28
5 Comments
Impeach the President?
by: Rob Kailey - Mar 16
15 Comments
It's the system, stupid!
by: Jay Stevens - Oct 24
7 Comments

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Rob Kailey is a working schmuck with no ties or affiliations to any governmental or political organizations, save those of sympathy.
Ron Wyden

On the demise of Wyden's Free Choice Act

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Oct 07, 2009 at 05:46:47 AM MST

Here's an interesting wrinkle to healthcare reform that illuminates the difficulty of hammering out legislation with so many voices pulling lawmakers in different directions. It played out in the wee hours of the Senate Finance Committee's last markups to the healthcare bill submitted by Baucus last Friday morning. I'll let Ezra Klein set the stage:

But the drama came late in the evening. About one in the morning, Wyden's Free Choice Act came before the committee. But it never came up for a vote.

Instead, Max Baucus effectively ruled it out of order. The reason? It didn't have a full CBO score. This came as a surprise to Wyden and his team, who'd gotten the amendment scored by the CBO, and had been in endless negotiations with Baucus, the White House, employers, and labor over the past week. If the score was in fact partial, as Baucus and Conrad claimed, you'd think someone might have mentioned it. No one did.

But suddenly, in the wee hours of Friday morning, the chairs of the Finance and Budget Committees were explaining that the amendment lacked a valid score. ANde an amendment without a valid score is "out of order." Wyden was left with little choice but to withdraw the amendment. It was not deliberative democracy at its finest. But it served its purpose: it killed the amendment.

Klein does a great job of explaining Wyden's amendment and its importance to reform, but here I'll just say it would have given all Americans full access to the health insurance exchange, the place that allows consumers to buy a policy that falls under the restrictions of newly enacted community standards - no discrimination against preexisting conditions, etc - as well as the public option, when that's passed. If you work for a big company and you don't like your insurance, under Wyden's amendment you could ditch it and get something better.

With the amendment scratched, however, you're stuck with what you have. Reform will not touch you in any significant way.

For those of us who have been watching the legislative "process" unfold, that's not really much of a wrinkle, right? We've seen how Senators, time after time, cut down legislation that would open up the market to real competition, real choice, and access to effective and affordable insurance for fear of injuring the private insurance industry. Old hat, eh?

But the surprise in this particular amendment's demise is who opposed it:

The proposal was doomed by the joint opposition of businesses and labor. Businesses didn't like it because they lose control over their employees' health benefits. Labor groups didn't like it because they lose control over their members' health benefits. That's not an entirely selfish concern: It is easier to bargain on behalf of your workers or members if they have no other options, and thus are guaranteed customers for the insurer. But it is a short-sighted concern. It means the protection and preservation of a system where employers offer us one or two health-care choices, which may or may not be of high quality, and which will almost certainly dissolve if we leave or lose that job. It also means a system in which insurers compete less, and costs are further hidden from consumers, and businesses continue to bargain on their own.

One of the biggest mysteries to me swirling around healthcare reform is, where were the major corporations? Of all the stakeholders in healthcare reform, it's America's business community that stands to gain the most from good, comprehensive healthcare reform. (Okay, maybe the uninsured and the ill stand to gain more from an individual's point of view...) Under, say, a single-payer healthcare system, the burden for providing employee health benefits would - poof! - vanish. Sure, there'd be taxes to pay for the system that business would necessarily share, but it'd be no doubt considerably less than what they're dishing out now.

Of course, the present character of reform has removed them from the debate. Their beef isn't with the uninsured. It's with costs. They're there to shoot down anything that might steal from their bottom line - an employer mandate, say - but sitting quietly otherwise. And why not? For most of them, as with most of us, this bill will change the present healthcare status quo not one bit. Killing Wyden's amendments ensures that.

As for the unions, well they're looking out for their members. Period. A robust public option open to all reduces their bargaining power for their members.

It's frustrating to watch all this, isn't it? To get something good and comprehensive, like a single-payer system say, or a public option open to all, would require compromises from deep-pocketed groups to allow legislation to pass that would work against their interests. In short, they'd have to support something that's good for the country and its citizens, but bad for them in the short term, which takes courage.

I'm not saying it isn't possible. But under the conditions that this debate started - with a complex array of hodge-podge proposals and counter-proposals born out of the lukewarm pot of compromise with disparate and competing ideologies - there never was something to get excited, or courageous, about.

And thus died the Wyden amendment in the early morning hours in a Capitol Hill committee room late last week.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Baucus' chickens ready for bed

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Sep 16, 2009 at 06:30:39 AM MST

Today's big news about healthcare reform: Olympia Snowe removes her support for Baucus' bill citing cost.

Frankly, she's not the only one. Chuck Grassley says he can't support Baucus' bill because he's worried about illegal immigrants and abortion. (And just when did Grassley take the crazy turn?) Mike Enzi doesn't think states should pick up any of the tab for Medicaid expansion, and doesn't like fees imposed on insurance companies to help defray the cost of reform. (Of course, Enzi's admitted his job is to block reform.)  Ron Wyden thinks the subsidies are too low. John Kerry: "It's not going to be the bill we're going to vote on."

More importantly for the bill's future in the Senate Finance Committee, Jay Rockefeller despises the bill and claims "four to six Democrats" in the committee feel the same way. If true, Baucus will need to find four to six committee Republican votes to pass his legislation out of committee.

Nate Silver crunches the numbers and finds that Senator Baucus is the only person who supports his bill. Silver:

But let's be clear -- some of this is Baucus's chickens coming home to roost. When you make a unilateral decision to negotiate with only five other people from a 23-person committee and 100-person Senate, and two of those five people have clear electoral disincentives against supporting any plan that you might come up with, the negotiations are liable to end in failure far more often than not. The flurry of on-the-record statements against Baucus's reform plans -- not "leaks", not trial balloons -- points toward a defective process.

And that may suit Democrats just fine.

Without any Republican support, any health care bill that passes Congress now has a real chance of including effective and progressive reform. It'll be tricky dancing around a Senate filibuster, but it likely be easier than getting something out of the Senate Finance Committee with Republican support.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Scoring the House health care bill

by: Jay Stevens

Fri Jul 17, 2009 at 16:22:42 PM MST

I had a post written last night about the CBO's scoring of the House health care reform bill, but I lost it. No idea where.

Here's the shorter version: the CBO found there'd be no net cost savings from the legislation, but that's in part a result of not making the public option available to many, as well as some other measures, including not capping tax credits for those holding employer-based health insurance.

Of the two points, guess which one Senator Baucus seized upon?

Curiously, Ezra Klein brings up Senator Ron Wyden's "Free Choice Act" as the possible savior of health care reform, which would essentially throw open the health insurance exchange - and access to a public option - to everybody.

I've spoken out against the cap on health insurance benefits before, but I'd gladly trade it for what Wyden's offering.

Thoughts?

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

The Wyden Health Care Bill

by: Matt Singer

Thu Dec 14, 2006 at 14:53:28 PM MST

( - promoted by Matt Singer)

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has rolled out a very intriguing health care proposal that has already drawn support from both the SEIU and Safeway. The meat of the proposal from what I can tell is this:
  • All Americans buy their own health insurance. Employer-based health insurance becomes something of the past.

  • Employers that previously contributed to health insurance premiums would have to convert their savings into a wage hike. The tax code would be adjusted accordingly.

  • The federal government would provide subsidies to low-income Americans to make health insurance plans more affordable.

  • The federal government would mandate a minimum-quality health care plan, based on federal health insurance.

  • Insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage to people.

  • Health insurance rates could only be varied based on geography, family size, and smoking status. In other words, pre-existing conditions could not be a basis for either higher rates or rejection by the insurance company.
An independent top-notch health care consulting firm predicted net cost savings despite this being a move to truly universal health insurance. The insurance, although mandated, would be through private firms, which would still compete.

This isn't my dream plan, but it is pretty decent. It's also getting support from both business and labor -- a good sign that this may be a real common ground.

I'll be on a conference call with Senator Wyden soon to discuss the plan. If you have questions for him, please get them into comments quickly.

Discuss :: (8 Comments)
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