The Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday offered specific legislation under which the federal government would take over the health care industry.
Sen. Max Baucus' proposal, which he contends would cost only $856 billion, would allow "cooperatives" -- supposedly a different thing from the federal government -- to sell insurance in competition with private industry.
But these weaker sisters "seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country," warns Douglas W. Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office.
Supporters claim the co-ops would compete effectively with private companies and help hold down costs, but CBO's assessment is likely to re-energize advocates of direct government competition.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the overall legislation an "important building block" that "gets us closer to comprehensive health care reform."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, on the other hand, called it a partisan proposal that "cuts Medicare by nearly a half-trillion dollars and puts massive new tax burdens on families and small businesses, to create yet another thousand-page, trillion-dollar government program. Only in Washington would anyone think that makes sense, especially in this economy."
Like other proposals in circulation, Sen. Baucus' plan would require insurance companies to sell coverage to all seeking it, without exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions or charging prohibitively expensive premiums.
The legislation would create so-called insurance exchanges in the states, where companies could sell policies that meet criteria set by the government, with federal subsidies available for lower-income individuals and families who would otherwise be unable to afford coverage. Any policy offered for sale in the exchanges would have to cover preventive and primary care as well as dental, prescription drug, mental health and vision services. In general, consumer co-pays on preventive coverage would be banned.
To make the costs of his plan appear smaller, Sen. Baucus included only one year of a 10-year, $230 billion increase in doctor fees under Medicare.
The legislation calls for a new tax on high-cost insurance plans -- soaking those who already buy insurance to fund those who do not -- a series of fees and taxes on insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry and other health care providers, and penalties assessed on people who refuse to purchase coverage or large companies that refuse to offer it to their employees.
At least Sen. Baucus admits his plan will cost money and tells us where at least some of that loot would come from.
And unlike other Democratic proposals, the Baucus bill supposedly includes specific provisions designed to keep illegal immigrants from obtaining health coverage through the new insurance exchanges, and preventing federal funds from being used to pay for abortions.
It appears likely those even further to the left in his own party will now fight those "compromises."
In the House, Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, who favors a government-run program, said Wednesday, "I think I speak for many members of Congress in saying that the Senate proposal simply will not pass muster in the House of Representatives."
Sen. Baucus certainly leaves no doubt he's a modern-day Democrat. To solve the supposed "crisis" of a few million people living for months at a time without health insurance -- nearly 15 million of whom are illegals -- the Montana senator presents a plan which is still top-heavy with federal interventions and takeovers, and which a country already staggered by massive federal deficits can't possibly afford.
But give him credit -- at least a Democrat has finally offered a single, concrete proposal.
The initial Obama strategy -- which has now failed -- was to allow Democratic congressmen to hand around a whole range of unintelligible proposals, running to more than a thousand pages, presumably in the hopes such fuzziness would deprive defenders of Americanism and the free market of any fixed target on which they could set their sights.
Now, finally, a fixed target is presented. Let us see how it fares.