I have written several times of the media's fixation with the bill that comes out of the Senate Finance Committee on health care. It's finally starting to move now, creaking its way up the track like a half-dead carcass. Traditional media will act like whatever is in the Senate Finance bill will be the bill, that the deal is done. Not even close, folks.
Here's why the Senate Finance markup that will come out next week is nowhere close to what will be in the final legislation:
1. Finance chair Max Baucus has already messed up by not consulting with a half-dozen of the more progressive members of the committee. I am hearing numerous reports, some of which have surfaced publicly, that some of them are rebelling at the awful piece of mangled legislation being thrust in front of them. Given that Snowe is the only Republican that there is even a ghost of a chance of voting for the bill, Baucus has to get all or at least most of the Democrats on board, and I believe if the committee progressives work together, they can force some changes for the better.
2. The bill that makes it out of Finance will be so convoluted, contradictory, distorted, held-together-with-duct-tape because of all the compromises Baucus is making that Democrats will have to remake it in later stages even if they don't want to- and a great many of them want to.
3. Harry Reid still needs to marry the Finance bill and the HELP committee bill. Tom Harkin, who took over the chairmanship of the HELP Committee after Ted Kennedy passed away, is from what I hear bound and determined to make a major push to have the language of the HELP bill be a major part of the package that goes to the floor, including on the big issues like the public option and affordability for the middle class. He is being supported not only by the Democratic members of his committee but by outside progressive forces.
4. The floor fight will be wild and wooly, but I suspect that progressive forces may have an advantage in adding positive amendments to the mix in the light of day in a floor fight. The Republicans will offer all kinds of goofy amendments designed to mess up the bill, but they have two problems: they only have 40 votes, and the public polling on the GOP's actual health care proposals are very bad. Given that, Republican efforts to worsen the bill have little chance to succeed. Progressives, on the other hand, want to improve the bill by doing things that are actually popular: the public option (consistently polls in the 60s and 70s); taxing the wealthy instead of middle class workers with good insurance plans; making health insurance more affordable to the middle class. All of these are going to be pretty hard to vote against on the Senate floor.
5. Finally, to return to a theme I have been rather repetitive about in recent months, it is abundantly clear that House progressives, if they stay strong and stay together, have the negotiating power to block a bad bill. If they don't wilt, if they don't let themselves get picked off one by one, they can negotiate for a good health care bill, one that has a public option, one that is affordable for the middle class, one that forces insurers and providers to do real cost containment.
The traditional media will fall all over themselves to pronounce whatever Senate Finance does to be chiseled in stone. But progressives, if they work together and negotiate tough, can write a bill that will work, a bill on comprehensive health reform that we can all look back on as one of the greatest accomplishments of the era.
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