Baucus' Health Care Circus

So Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) labored mightily and gave forth what?

The truth is that no one really knows. The committee agreed to something that’s more than a bullet-form outline, but a lot less than a bill Congress can debate and vote on. That product is being mysteriously drafted by staff behind closed doors, and only after Baucus slammed through a “cleanup” amendment at the last moment that gutted most of the limitations that Republicans had managed to wheedle into the massive bill.

The Baucus circus produced something that doesn’t have the so-called public option — the White House’s means to nationalize health care — but does have government-regulated insurance “exchanges” that may well amount to the same thing.  

It has a ton of new taxes on business and individuals, some hidden under the guise of “fees.”  And no one knows how much it’ll cost.  

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is trying to “score” the bill (i.e., figure out what it costs) while the thing is being drafted. Which is kind of like the checkout gal at the grocery store weighing an empty bag to price the apples you plan to fill it with later.  Good luck with that.  

CBO reportedly will issue its “score” on the Baucus bill later today.

As we wait for the next three acts to come out to Ringmaster Baucus’ cheers, Senate Republicans are looking at the health care mess with more than a little skepticism.

I spoke to Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) about it on Monday.  Will the bill come to the floor this week?

McConnell didn’t think so. “I think they’ve kinda been intimidated, you know, into having it out there in public for a while, and into getting a [CBO] score."

He added, “You’ve heard all the arguments, about the peripheral issues: does it or doesn’t it cover illegal immigrants, does it or doesn’t it pay for abortions, does it or doesn’t it have a government option in it. What we know for sure is what the core of the bill is. It’s a half a trillion in Medicare cuts, and three or four hundred billion dollars in tax increases on just individuals and businesses. That we know for sure.”

I asked McConnell about the problem that the cuts in reimbursements to doctors under Medicare create. Part of the problem, he said is that Medicare’s own problems overshadow all of the supposed savings in the Obamacare. Are they going to be able to save $500 billion out of waste and fraud?

McConnell said, “What we know for sure is that there’s not enough waste, fraud and abuse to find half a trillion dollars within ten years.

McConnell said that the problem is that Medicare itself is not sustainable: it’s going bankrupt in seven years. But rather than try to restructure Medicare, the Democrats are raiding Medicare to start a program for people that are currently uninsured. Older Americans know that, and are thus turning against what the Democrats are doing.

McConnell believes — with good reason — that the Obamacare measure will be a major burden to our already weak economy.  

He said, “We know now that unemployment is 9.8%. The experts are telling us that this is going to be a rather tepid recovery with unemployment rates not going down. If you’re running a business and you’re trying to figure out what your cost are going to be next year, here’s what you’re looking at. The cost of everything is going up. The cost of hiring someone is going up because of the health care bill. The taxes are going up because of the expiration of Bush tax cuts in December of 2010, which is going to be a whopping tax increase on small business. If you’re running a business and you’re thinking about expanding, you’re going to be thinking about the cost of hiring additional people. And so what you’re beginning to see headed your way is a big tax increase on the health care side, a big tax increase with the expiration of Bush tax cuts.”

How will business owners be forced to react?  McConnell said, “The message is, ‘I’m gonna get by on the same number of employees I have now or even fewer.’"

What about the President’s claims that the Obamacare bill will help the economy?  McConnell thinks it’s plain silly: “And this nonsense the president spouts about how passing this bill is good for the economy is almost laughable. It in fact will impede whatever hopeful signs that are out there that we might be coming out of this, it will impede the recovery.”

And that’s the state of play until CBO tells us — later today — how much that empty plastic bag will cost once it’s filled with Heaven knows what.