Baucus Gives ‘Gang of Six’ Opportunity To Offer Changes to Plan
On Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) emerged from a meeting with the panel's bipartisan "Gang of Six," which has been negotiating the committee's health reform bill, to announce a new deadline to reach a compromise on the proposal, Politico reports (Budoff Brown/Frates, Politico, 9/8).
In an effort to "seize some momentum" from President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress, Baucus set a 10 a.m. deadline on Wednesday for group members to deliver their feedback on the new framework that he circulated over the weekend, Roll Call reports (Pierce/Drucker, Roll Call, 9/9).
After Tuesday's meeting, Baucus said that the negotiating committee members "liked" the new framework, "but they also had ideas, some changes that they would like to see, and some concerns that some of them they had." He said the group had made four or five significant suggestions, which he did not specify, but he noted that "there are ways to solve those."
On the prospect for reaching a compromise, Baucus said, "On the one hand we're going to work to get a decision, on the other hand I wanted to make it clear that we're just not going to dally, we're not going to dawdle" (Bendavid, Wall Street Journal, 9/8).
The negotiating group is expected to convene again on Wednesday afternoon before Obama's address, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET (Fritze, USA Today, 9/9).
According to Politico, Baucus could then make a decision whether to move forward with the bipartisan talks or potentially abandon hopes for the anticipated bipartisan reform bill. "Time is running out very quickly, and I suspect I will be making some decisions very quickly," Baucus said on Tuesday.
Stance of Negotiators
Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a member of the negotiating group, praised Baucus' new plan, but he cautioned that the Congressional Budget Office's scoring of the plan is pending, so a final deal could be difficult to reach before Obama delivers his speech (Politico, 9/8).
Two of the group's Republican members -- Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) -- declined to endorse or reject the new plan, according to Roll Call.
A Senate Democratic source said the two lawmakers also told Baucus that they would have difficulty supporting the new plan (Roll Call, 9/9).
Both Baucus and Enzi previously have made their opposition known to elements that are in the new framework, including the creation of not-for-profit health cooperatives, according to Politico (Politico, 9/8).
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) -- the third Republican member of the group -- said the new plan has "many promising elements" (Wall Street Journal, 9/8). She acknowledged that she had some concerns with it, but she did not appear to share Baucus' sense of urgency to reach a deal before Obama's speech, according to CongressDaily.
Snowe said, "I think the speech and our efforts are complementary and not mutually exclusive, so I don't think that decision has to come [on Wednesday]," adding, "And Max already suggested Sept. 15, so I think I'd rather give it a few more days and work through some of these issues" (Edney, CongressDaily, 9/9).
The Washington Post reports that if the negotiating group does not reach a compromise, congressional Democrats could bypass the Finance Committee altogether (Murray, Washington Post, 9/8).
Meanwhile, political insiders have said that Baucus wants to have the committee's bill ready for markup the week of Sept. 15, according to Politico.
The panel's bill would need to be reconciled with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's bill, which was passed earlier in the summer, before it can advance to the Senate floor (Politico, 9/8).
More Details of New Framework
Several more details of Baucus' new framework for the Finance Committee's reform bill came to light on Tuesday, CongressDaily reports. Under the new framework:
- Insurance companies would face a 35% excise tax on plans valued over $8,000 for individuals and $21,000 for families. The tax would apply to the amount of the plan above the threshold. Higher thresholds would be in place for the 17 highest-cost states, increasing 20%, 10% and 5% annually for three years. The taxes would not be levied on plans purchased in the individual market (Edney, CongressDaily, 9/8). The excise tax would be in addition to an annual fee that insurers would be required to pay starting in 2010 based on their market share, which would raise an estimated $6 billion annually (California Healthline, 9/8).
- Drugmakers would be a taxed a total of $2.3 billion annually, medical device manufacturers would be taxed a total of $4 billion annually and clinical labs would be taxed $750 million annually, based on their market share (CongressDaily, 9/8).
- All U.S. citizens and documented residents would be required to have insurance coverage by 2013. Individuals and families who do not have any health coverage would be levied penalties on a sliding scale based on income, starting at $750 annually for individuals and $1,500 annually for families. Households with incomes exceeding three times the federal poverty level, or $66,000 for a family of four, would face the maximum fine of $3,800 annually. Individuals whose incomes are greater than 300% of the federal poverty level would face annual fines of $950 (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/8).
- Individuals whose incomes are below $32,000 annually or families whose incomes are below $66,000 annually would be eligible for tax credits to help them obtain insurance.
- Businesses with more than 200 employers must offer coverage benefits, unless individual workers have proven that they already have other coverage. Businesses with more than 50 workers that do not offer benefits would be levied a fee for each employee eligible for a government tax credit (Haberkorn/Rowland, Washington Times, 9/9).
PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Tuesday included a report on Baucus' new framework, with comments from several House and Senate lawmakers. The segment was followed by a discussion of the plan with PBS correspondent Gwen Ifill, Time, national political correspondent Karen Tumulty and reporter Shailagh Murray of the Washington Post (Lehrer, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 9/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.