I don’t know what’s more disturbing: thinking of Senators in gangs or thinking of Senators singing and dancing.
The fate of the health care overhaul largely rests on the shoulders of six senators who since June 17 have gathered — often twice a day, and for many hours at a stretch — in a conference room with burnt sienna walls, in the office of the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana.
President Obama and Congressional leaders agree that if a bipartisan deal can be forged on health care, it will emerge from this conference room, with a huge map of Montana on one wall and photos of Mike Mansfield, the Montanan who was the longest-serving Senate majority leader, on the other.
The battle over health care is all but paralyzed as everyone awaits the outcome of their talks.
The three Republicans are Snowe, Enzi and Grassley. The Democrats are Baucus, Bingaman and Kent “co-ops” Conrad.
The Finance Committee was supposed to deal with — wait for it — finance. Instead, President Baucus and President Snowe decided that they’d just write the whole damn bill themselves and have included a competing co-op plan that would replace the public plan offered by the HELP committee.
Because three Republican Senators are worth more than 76% of the country to members of the most exclusive club in the world.
They certainly have a mighty high opinion of themselves.
Not to just keep flogging a dead horse endlessly, but it does strike me as worth noting that when you read a puff piece in The New York Times about the Gang of Six bipartisan dealmakers in the Senate that vast power is being wielded by people who, in a democratic system of government, would have almost no power. We’re talking, after all, about Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Collectively those six states contain about 2.74 percent of the population, less than New Jersey, or about one fifth the population of California. The six largest states, by contrast, contain about 40 percent of Americans.
James Joyner responds to Yglesias:
There’s no doubt that the small states have disproportionate power in a system wherein all states get equal voting power. Then again, that was the whole point (see: Compromise, Great).
Would we design the system this way if we were starting from scratch? Probably not. But it made good sense at a time when the several states were sovereign entities banded together for national defense and international commerce.
Does this make our system undemocratic? Not any moreso than, say, the fact that five unelected people on the Supreme Court (about 0.00 percent of the population!) can overrule an act of the legislature. Or that it requires a supermajority to amend the Constitution or ratify a treaty.
Matt is also frustrated that the above-mentioned six come from predominately rural states and therefore ignore the interests of urbanites. But that’s just a function of self-selection in a particular instance. It’s certainly conceivable that a group of Senators from larger states who happen to be on the fence on some other issue could dine together regularly and use their informal gatherings to work out their policy positions.
Hugh Hewitt at Townhall:
The six senators hammering out a bipartisan plan need to test their Beltway presumptions against the realities of American public opinion while at home in the dog days of summer.
That public opinion is turning massively against Obamacare because the public is beginning to understand the ramifications of Obamacare. Significant majorities don’t want to be pushed from their private health insurance into a “government option/private plan.” Larger majorities don’t want the government in the business of picking rationing winners and losers. Huge majorities don’t want more taxes or escalating deficits.
The Senate needs now to exercise its traditional and constitutional role of the brake on bad legislation.
Michael Goldfarb in TWS:
And check out the Times photo that shows who is in the room for these meetings. Apparently the group consists of Republicans who are either “not beholden to the Republican leadership” or are “balancing…loyalty to the leadership” and Democrats who are “champions of health programs for low-income Americans” and have a “fiscal conscience.” Notice who isn’t in the picture: anyone who has actually practiced medicine or worked at an insurance company. But don’t worry — just look what a good job they’re doing with the car companies.
This is not the Finance Committee’s bill. This is the Max Baucus Committee’s Bill. And there’s not a liberal — or even a Democrat traditionally associated with health-care policy — working on it. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of Finance’s health subcommittee, is not included in the negotiations. Nor is Ron Wyden, who has written the Healthy Americans Act. Chuck Schumer isn’t in the room, nor is John Kerry, Debbie Stabenow or Maria Cantwell.
The question is whether Baucus’s final product will matter. Rockefeller and the other Democrats on the committee have felt excluded from the negotiations and will want major changes before they can sign onto the final product. Then the Finance bill will have to be reconciled with the more liberal legislation built by the HELP Committee. Then it will have to go to the floor, where it will need the support of people like Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown just as much as it will need Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh. And then, if it passes those tests, it will have to be reconciled with the House’s legislation.
All of which is to say that the Baucus process is attracting an immense amount of interest, but the product may not look a lot like the bill that Congress eventually considers. And the reason is simple enough: Baucus’s process doesn’t look a lot like Congress. Baucus, Enzi, Snow, Grassley, Bingaman, and Conrad all think of themselves as dealmakers, but right now, they’re not cutting a deal on behalf of anyone but themselves.
UPDATE: Paul Krugman:
Yglesias points out that the Gang of Six negotiating the Senate Finance version of health reform all represent very small states — in fact, the combined population of their states is less than that of New Jersey.
So hey, why not let New Jersey do this instead? We can get a committee of, say, three corrupt mayors and three money-laundering rabbis to draw up a plan; it could hardly be worse than what Max Baucus has come up with.*
As we say here in the Garden State, “You got a problem with that?”
This whole business, it was a litmus test for whether or not we even have a functioning government. Here we had a political majority in congress and a popular president armed with oodles of political capital and backed by the overwhelming sentiment of perhaps 150 million Americans, and this government could not bring itself to offend ten thousand insurance men in order to pass a bill that addresses an urgent emergency. What’s left? Third-party politics?
But whatever gets done will be much too expensive because the political system is very afraid of harming any of the relevant industries. Taibbi is right that this, like climate change, is a litmus test for our government. Both are serious, foreseeable and solvable threats to our society. One threatens to bankrupt the country. The other threatens irreversible damage to the planet we live on. Responding to such threats is the test of a political system. And our system will fail it. We will not avert catastrophic climate change. We will not protect ourselves from health-care inflation.
You can argue over why that is. Taibbi implies that Americans stand foursquare behind action on health-care reform, and there’s no evidence that that’s true for any particular health-care reform you might attempt. But nor is it true that even a relatively united populace — as we had on the stimulus — could guarantee a decent outcome. And so the end result remains the same: The country, and the system, will continue to whistle while our wages get eaten up and our government tumbles further into debt and our interest rates rise and other priorities get squeezed out and a serious and painful fiscal reckoning inches ever closer.
What’s happening to Ezra Klein’s generation of moderate idealists, though, seems to be a little different. It’s hard to imagine a liberal writing anything quite as bitter as this, even in 1994 after ClintonCare collapsed:
The country, and the system, will continue to whistle while our wages get eaten up and our government tumbles further into debt and our interest rates rise and other priorities get squeezed out and a serious and painful fiscal reckoning inches ever closer.
Matthew Yglesias, while more rhetorically strident, is basically from the same camp as Mr Klein: a process-oriented moderate liberal. In recent weeks, he has been essentially calling for the abolition of the US Senate. Maybe it’s just a passing phase, but there seems to be something going on with these guys. When popular reformist governments don’t deliver on their early promise, one possible youth response is the kind of thing you saw happen to Generation X. And then, on the other hand, there’s the kind of thing you saw happen to those clean-cut moderate liberal kids who wrote the Port Huron Statement.
Conor Friedersdorf at The Scene:
The United States government is built to resist radical changes in policy. That frustrates both political parties and the sundry ideologies they encompass at various times, but it’s served our nation rather well during its history, and the idea that we ought to deem the approach a failure due to Barack Obama’s inability to pass sweeping health care reform or climate change legislation is short-sighted, to say the least.
UPDATE #2: Via Schwenkler,
UPDATE #3: Nick Baumann