Montanans were treated to an almost unbelievable outpouring of praise for Sen. Max Baucus' health care bill recently as top Democrats gushed about what a wonderful piece of legislation it is. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Baucus bill is a jumbled mess that does one thing—keeps the insurance industry fully in charge of America's health care. We deserve better, both from Baucus and from the Democrats who used to be, after all, the party of the people.
The top dog in this line-up of lameness is Jim Messina, formerly Baucus' chief of staff and now the deputy chief of staff for President Obama. Messina told University of Montana students last week that "Max wrote a very good bill that can bring people together, and you're seeing that." Maybe from Messina's rather high and lofty point of view Max's bill could somehow be perceived as "very good." Consider, though, that Messina already has excellent insurance coverage, just like Baucus, that is paid for by the taxpayers of this country and comes with his job in the White House.
But for those without insurance, and especially for those who simply cannot afford insurance, Baucus' bill is worse than doing nothing. At least now the small business owner or self-employed citizen can make the decision not to buy into some phony catastrophic insurance policy that will continually take its money and deliver absolutely nothing in the way of coverage unless someone's on their death bed. Under Baucus' bill, however, that decision is taken out of the hands of the individual via a legal mandate to either buy into the insurance industry or be fined and criminalized by their own government. "Very good?" Hardly.
Messina was just as lame as he tried to cover for his new boss while praising his old boss. When questioned about why Baucus' bill doesn't even include a public option—where the government would actually offer insurance to provide some competition for the private insurers—Messina said Baucus' bill does offer the public option in the form of co-ops, adding: "Look, the president supports public option, but has said over and over again that there are different ways to do it. He'd be open to those ways." A week later, the White House is, in fact, saying the president isn't committed to the public option, leaving Messina's sorry excuse hanging in the wind.
Given this kind of obfuscation at the top, it's no surprise to see Montana's Democrats following suit with their own effusive praise for Baucus. Take Jim Elliot, for instance, who is the newly elected chair of the Demo party. "Max helped move Montana and the nation in the right direction today by passing a bi-partisan health care bill," Elliot said. "His bill is a framework for reform that will keep health care costs from continuing to skyrocket and will guarantee that no Montanan will be denied health care insurance for any reason."
Elliot, prior to becoming a Demo party mouthpiece, was lauded for his efforts to bring some transparency to corporate records. This is the guy who once argued that corporations are not people and do not have the same guarantees of individual privacy that the Montana constitution grants its citizens. Now, in his new role, Elliot is bizarrely lauding a "bi-partisan solution"—literally taking the words from Baucus' own mouth. Again, the truth is considerably different than the spin. Only one Republican voted for Max's bill in committee—Olympia Snowe, from Maine. One. Not only does that strain any claims of "bipartisan" agreement, it brings to question the whole concept of why Baucus ever decided a "bipartisan solution" to health care reform should be the goal.
With Democrats holding 60 seats in the Senate, an overwhelming majority of the House and their party's president in the White House, the last thing Demos need to worry about is making sure whatever they do is okay with Republicans. Once again, what we're seeing here is the triumph of process—and political spin—over product. We would all be better off had Baucus simply brought out a bill that truly reforms America's broken health care system and stood up for what's right instead of hiding behind phony bipartisanship to deliver the mere charade of health care reform while basically kowtowing to the same moneyed powers that continue to control both parties.
Nor is that the only phony baloney in Elliot's statements. While assuring us that Baucus' bill "will guarantee that no Montanan will be denied health care insurance for any reason," he forgot one huge point—affordability. Right now, if you're willing to pay enough, there'll be someone willing to take your money and sell you some terrible policy actuarially guaranteed to make them profits while denying as many benefits as possible. That, in a nutshell, is the insurance game—they bet the take against the risk and then fudge as much as possible to stack the deck in their favor. Nothing new there.
So why would Democrats be so happy about a bill that leaves the insurance industry in charge, denies the ability of the government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices and criminalizes those who can't afford to buy low-end health insurance? The answer, however ugly, is simple: money, money, money.
In a nutshell, Baucus brings home the dough to Montana Democrats. All those millions of dollars that people have been criticizing Baucus for taking from the drug, insurance, and health industries don't just stay in Max's pocket—they get spread around throughout Montana Democrat circles for polls, political operatives, signs, ads, phone calls and mailings. Like feeding popcorn to the pigeons.
The Demo "leaders" who issued these misleading statements, and there are more than just Elliot and Messina, obviously have no intention of biting the hand that feeds them. But the bottom line remains the same: Montanans deserve better, especially from the Democrats.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.