Baucus Bill Bipartisanship?

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) yesterday unveiled his new health care bill and has scheduled the markup to begin next week. He had no support from any other senator at the unveiling, standing alone while attempting to convince reporters that his bill will pass the Senate.

The bill is estimated to cost a whopping $856 billion dollars.

There are three major political strikes against this “chairman’s mark” coming out of the gate.

Strike one:  like its House counterpart, the bill cuts $500 billion out of the Medicare system that will result in stiff opposition from seniors — a traditional Democrat voting bloc.  Republicans have been very vocal in opposition to these drastic cuts that would leave seniors without viable alternatives.

Strike two: the bill would levy a non-deductible 35 percent excise tax on all insurance plans valued above $8,000 for individuals and $21,000 for families. Employers would be required to report the value of health plans on an employee’s W-2.  The tax would apply to premiums in excess of the threshold.  This would as much as double the cost of premiums that will be passed along to the employees..  More stiff opposition, this time from unions — yet another Democrat constituency.  This massive tax is vital to paying for the new Senate health care boondoggle.

Strike three: The bill mandates that individuals purchase health insurance and the government will define what that coverage must be.  Penalties would be assessed for failure to buy government-approved insurance in amounts up to $3,800 per family.  Even the Democrats have problems with trying to explain this new annual tax to their middle class constituents.  

These elements could outright kill the bill.  But there is much more.

Like the House bill, the Baucus bill also creates a “comparative effectiveness institute.”  The bill states that the research data is “prohibited from denying coverage based solely on a study conducted by the Institute,” but it does not bar the use of the data for rationing purposes.

Employers would be provided tax credits for providing coverage and government would penalize companies not offering coverage.  Health Savings Accounts could be taxed and annual contributions to Flexible Spending Accounts would be limited to $2,000.

Trial lawyers are protected, even if voters aren’t. No tort reform is included in the bill — only a “sense of the Senate” resolution that health care reform offers an opportunity to address the issue. This is that we call a “straw man.”

The bill would assess an annual flat fee of $2.3 billion on pharmaceutical manufacturers, $4 billion on medical device manufacturers, $6 billion on health insurance providers and $0.75 billion on clinical laboratories — driving up costs to consumers while limiting research and development of new drugs and medical devices.

State-based insurance exchanges would be created as well as the government option “co-op” funded and controlled by the federal government. This is the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac model for government takeover. Given the catastrophic under-estimation of the cost of any health care bill passed through Congress, this is the classic “too big to fail” setup for the future bailout that will wrest the final elements of the health care system out of private hands and into government control.

Despite what the President claims, as with the House bill, major elements actually affecting health care services don’t take effect until after 2013 — the year after the Presidential election — making it difficult for the President to be held accountable for any of the disastrous consequences resulting from the government takeover of health care.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) commented on the new Senate plan yesterday.

“This partisan proposal 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,” McConnell said. “Only in Washington would anyone think that makes sense, especially in this economy.”

GOP Leaders Press for Czar Accountability

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), Government Reform and Oversight Committee Ranking Member Darrell Issa (Ca.), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (Texas),  Reps. Frank Wolf (Va.), Jack Kingston (Ga.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Patrick McHenry (N.C.), Ted Poe (Texas), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Dan Lundgren (Calif.) and others are calling on the President to provide information on his dozens of “czar” appointees, presenting at a press conference differing efforts to require transparency and accountability.

Crucial constitutionality questions were put forth that calls into serious question the legitimacy of the President’s czar appointment process and their granted powers.

“The Constitution of the United States doesn’t get read often enough in this building,” Pence said.  “Nowhere in this document can I find the word, ‘czar.’  What I do find is a very clear obligation under Article One for the Congress to provide advice and consent in the formation of a government in the executive branch.”

“Lamar Smith and I sent a letter to the President trying to get him to quantify what he’s doing, how much he’s paying and where he’s placing these people,” Issa said.  “I’m old enough to remember the pummeling Ronald Reagan took for having a ‘Kitchen Cabinet,’ a group of people he had known and been friends with throughout his life.  They didn’t get paid, they didn’t move around with the color of the office, they didn’t give speeches.  They gave him advice personally. … This formation of a shadow cabinet that is in fact twice the size of the actual cabinet… a cabinet without the legitimacy of the office and the confirmation.  They operate without the visibility and the oversight that is essential, that every cabinet officer has.”

“All Presidents have had advisers, which is good,” Poe said. “They can have as many advisers as they wish from wherever they wish to get that advice.  But when an advisor crosses the line from being an adviser to being a policymaker and a decision-maker for the government, that person then needs to be held accountable to the people of the United States. … Are these czars advisers or are they policymakers?  If they become policymakers, then transparency is important, accountability is important and confirmation by the United States Senate is mandatory.”

“All Presidents have a right to staff their administration as they see fit within the confines of the Constitution,” Blackburn said. “Where I have concerns is when a President shifts duties away from officials who are subject to Congressional oversight to those on his personal staff who are not. These aides wield extraordinary influence and the American people have a right to know who they are, why they are qualified for their jobs, what their conflicts of interest might be, and what their job descriptions are. The President has an obligation to disclose this information.”

“I’m ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the FBI,” Wolf said.  “We called the FBI about this, do they do a background check?  The FBI said they do a background check, but it’s the same background check they would do for an intern at the White House.  They do not do a security clearance.  They give all of the information over to the White House. … The FBI doesn’t get involved once they hand the information over, and they ought to.  We ought to have criteria and standards.”

“This unaccountability has created an atmosphere of arrogance that we don’t need to have people vetted,” Gohmert said.  “That is dangerous for this country.”

“This year’s season of ‘Dancing with the Czars’ should be canceled,” Lundgren said.