Explosions! Excitement! Boom! Boom!

Jill Lawrence at Politics Daily:

The debate over whether to create a public insurance plan to compete with private plans is about to explode in the Senate Finance Committee. The stakes are high and so is the suspense. (1 p.m. ET update on Tuesday: The debate has begun with three hours of talk, including some combative moments. No votes yet; they’ve broken for a 45-minute lunch).

It’s unclear what the outcome will be Tuesday when the committee, continuing work on its 10-year, $900 billion health reform bill, is scheduled to take up three versions of a public health insurance option.

The panel has 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Anything less than a solid wall of Republican opposition to all three proposals would be shocking. On top of that, several Democrats have reservations about some or all of the proposals.

Brian Beutler at TPM:

Two things to keep in mind if you’re watching the hearing or reading news accounts about the developments: the two proposals are very different, and neither is expected to pass. The Rockefeller amendment is a version of what we’ve come to know as the “robust” public option. It would, for a time, be tied to Medicare, and, thereafter, be able to use the government’s considerable leverage to bargain down payment rates with providers.

The Schumer proposal, by contrast, is what we’ve come to know as the “level playing field” public option: much like the public option provided for in the Senate HELP Committee’s proposal, its rates would be negotiated by the government with providers, just as private health insurance companies are forced to do.

Though most reformers by and large would prefer a Rockefeller-style public option, for political purposes, the one to pay close attention to today is Schumer’s. It’s the “compromise” public option, that can’t really be honestly construed as a massive government intrusion into the insurance market. Its impact would be relatively minimal, and though it, too, is not expected to pass, we’ll get to see, for the first time, a number of key senators–Baucus, Conrad, Lincoln–dispense with all the vague public statements and go on the record.

It will also provide reformers a sense of how much support there is within the greater Senate (particularly among Senate Democrats) for a public option–which could still be added at a number of key legislative moments down the line.

As the headline indicates, a big day (though not the last day) for the public option.

Ed Morrissey:

Schumer and Rockefeller threaten to pull the string on an elaborate work-around by Baucus to gain the most amount of support possible for health-care reform, and it will unravel the effort.  Not only will all Republicans oppose any bill that includes a public option, but a number of Democrats will also flee.  Red-state Democrats such as Ben Nelson (NE), Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor (AR), and even Kent Conrad (ND) have already expressed deep misgivings about that approach and favor a different mechanism.

Rockefeller and Schumer claim that any overhaul without a government option won’t work.  However, they also have not offered any explanation as to how they will pay for the addition of a public option.  They also do not explain how Americans, now opposing ObamaCare in greater numbers than ever, will reward the centrists for selling out to a big-government solution.  They already saw the evidence of the backlash in hundreds of town-hall meetings and Tea Party protests over the summer.

Schumer and Rockefeller have shown their dismissive attitude towards the constituents who sent them to Washington.  How many more are infected with this hubris?  Probably not enough to pass this deficit-exploding monstrosity, and if anything, the pair may have pulled the string that causes this to unravel more quickly than ever.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

Thanks to Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) the focus today will be on whether or not the Democrats on the committee can find enough votes to include a government-run insurance program. Just like Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) preferred public plan, Rockefeller’s plan would set price controls for health reimbursements at 5% above Medicare reimbursement rates. If the public plan was opened to all individuals and families, 103.4 million Americans would end up on the public plan, 88.1 million of whom would first lose their existing private coverage.

It is unclear at this point if centrist Democrats in Congress are really ready to force this many people out of their existing private care and into government-run health care. But even if the public option is not included, there are still plenty of regressive job killing taxes and invasions of privacy in the Baucus plan that makes it terrible public policy:

Taxes Families – Under the plan,  everyone will have to have health insurance by 2013. The mandate will apply to all adults and their dependents under age 18. Those who failed to buy insurance would be forced to pay an annual tax between $750 and $3,800 per year. Those who fail to pay the tax could be jailed for up to one year. Worse, 7.7 million households would face a 35% excise tax on their health insurance. 94% of these households would be paying a higher tax rate on their health insurance than they would be paying on their income.

Taxes Businesses – Employers with more than 50 employees that don’t offer health coverage would have to pay a penalty for each employee who qualifies for new federal subsidizes under the bill. To stay in business employers will be forced to cut jobs and cut wages.

Taxes the Sick – The Baucus bill imposes higher taxes on manufacturers and importers of medical devices, health insurance companies, clinical laboratories, manufacturers and importers of drugs. In effect, the Baucus proposal would tax the sick to subsidize insurance for the healthy, and many of the taxes would be imposed on the same people “helped” by the subsidies.

Ezra Klein reacts to being quoted by Chuck Grassley and says:

Since the senator considers me an authority on the public option, let me lay out the argument at greater length: Liberals don’t think that Congress will pass a bill outlawing private insurance. They don’t think the Supreme Court will render a decision naming WellPoint “cruel and unusual.” Rather, they think the market will, well, work: The public option will provide better service at better prices and people will choose it. Or, conversely, that the competition will better the private insurance industry and that people won’t need to choose it.

But that confidence rests on a very simple premise: The public sector does a better job providing health-care coverage than the private sector. If that proves untrue — and I would imagine most every conservative would confidently assume that that’s untrue — the plan will fail. The public option will not provide better coverage at better prices, and so it will not be chosen, and it will languish. Indeed, if it languishes, it will lack customers and thus lack bargaining power and economies of scale, and get worse even as the private insurers get better. In that scenario, the public option not only fails, but it discredits single-payer entirely.

The liberals are willing to bet that they’re right. It’s not a sneaky strategy: It’s an up-front wager. The conservatives are not, however, willing to bet that they’re wrong. They’re willing to say the public option will fail, but not give consumers the chance to decide that for themselves.

Now who’s being sneaky?

Matt Corley at Think Progress:

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who recently took over as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told Bill Press that Democrats “comfortably” have the votes for a public option:

“I have polled senators, and the vast majority of Democrats — maybe approaching 50 — support a public option,” Harkin said told the liberal Bill Press Radio Show. “So why shouldn’t we have a public option? We have the votes.”

“I believe we’ll have the 60 votes, now that we have the new senator from Massachusetts, to at least get it on the Senate floor,” Harkin later added. “But once we cross that hurdle, we only need 51 votes for the public option. And I believe there are, comfortably, 51 votes for a public option.”

Though a version of the public option isn’t expected to make it out of the Finance Committee, supporters such as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) say that “the Senate floor is more favorable to the public option than the Finance Committee, and [negotiations with the House are] more favorable than the Senate floor.” ”

Hugh Hewitt at Townhall:

There isn’t a lick of tort reform in the Baucus bill, which is one reason why seniors should be wondering why they have to bleed but the plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t.

The list of Blue Dog Democrats and Senators facing re-election is below.  Call as many senators as you can today, and start with Senator Baucus’ office. 202-224-3121.  If seniors sit on their hands this week and next, they’ll find their Medicare benefits cut and their Medicare Advantage premiums skyrocketing in 2010.


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