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Baucus Health Plan Hits Opposition From Both Parties

September 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Sen. Max Baucus unveiled his committee's health care plan on Wednesday. Republicans complained the plan would cut Medicare, while Democrats opposed the exclusion of a public option. Betty Ann Bowser reports.

GWEN IFILL: A key U.S. senator in the health care debate rolled out his reform bill today. It quickly found critics on both sides of the aisle.

NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has our lead story report.

BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent: After a summer of public wrangling and private negotiations, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus unveiled his health care bill this afternoon. It came with a 10-year price tag of $856 billion.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-Mont.: It represents an effort to reach common ground and a real chance for health care reform. And it is balanced, a commonsense bill that can pass the Senate.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Among its chief provisions, the America’s Healthy Future Act would: require most individuals to obtain health insurance; Medicaid, the government program for the poor, would be expanded to cover thousands of people currently not eligible; federal aid would go to those needing financial help to buy coverage, but it would be less extensive than in other bills; employers would not have to offer coverage, but those with more than 50 employees would be fined for each worker in need of a federal subsidy.

In addition, insurers would not be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, and there would be no lifetime expenditure caps on coverage.

In a bid for Republican backing, Baucus did not include a government-run public option. Instead, he proposed member-run co-ops, which would compete with private insurers. And individuals and small business would be able to shop for insurance on Web-based exchanges.

Baucus worked for Republican support through months of marathon negotiations, but not one of the three Republicans among the so-called gang of six supported his plan today. Furthermore, some of the concessions he had to make may now drive Democrats away.

West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller blasted the bill yesterday in a conference call with reporters.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, D-W.Va.: There is no way that I can vote for the Senate package for a lot of reasons. And, obviously, the lack of a public option is one of them. So that I want to be very clear about.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Another Finance Committee Democrat, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, complained the Baucus plan may drive up costs for middle-income Americans.

SEN. RON WYDEN, D-Ore.: It would be very hard for a United States senator to go home, have a community meeting, and look middle-class folks in the eye and say, “This is health security.”

They’re going to respond, “Hey, wait a minute. Are you talking about my family paying more for health care than we are today, plus the prospect of a penalty or being exempt and still being uninsured?” So I think there’s a lot of heavy lifting still to do.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: On the other side, a Republican in the gang of six, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, said he objects to the new programs and spending.

SEN. MIKE ENZI, R-Wyo.: The proposal released today still spends too much, and it does too little to cut health care costs for those with health insurance. At a time when our nation faces a $9 trillion deficit, we should target assistance for those with the greatest need without creating unsustainable new entitlement programs.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Baucus envisioned paying for the new programs with $500 billion in cuts to existing government health plans and $350 billion in new taxes and fees.

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell denounced all of the Democratic-led efforts as unaffordable government intrusions.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader: People want more choice and competition in the health care market so they can pick a plan that would work for their family, not one dictated by politicians here in Washington.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs called the Baucus bill an “important building block.”

The full Senate Finance Committee plans to meet Tuesday to begin its consideration of the Baucus plan.

GWEN IFILL: You can listen to Senator Baucus’ news conference and read analysis of his proposal on our Web site,