After the Democrats took over Congress in 2007, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was a bit of a buzzkill, watering down progressive legislation regarding the minimum wage and prescription drug costs.
And in the next Congress, as Ezra Klein suggested last week, Baucus could be expected to take a “center-right” approach on health care, setting up a possible ideological tussle with the other Senate committee chair with jurisdiction on health care, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
But past performance does not always predict the future.
Baucus sprung out of the gate today with a health care proposal that would guarantee health care coverage for all by providing a public plan option that competes with private companies, which would no longer be able to cherry-pick younger healthier recipients.
Such a proposal is in line with the progressive Health Care for America plan and the progressive principles established by the Health Care for America Now coalition. It is also in line with President-Elect Barack Obama’s platform.
Baucus’ proposal does include an eventual mandate on individuals to obtain coverage, a position embraced by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the primaries and rejected by Obama. But as Health Care for America policy architect Prof. Jacob Hacker noted at the time, it’s a far less important dispute than the primary debate made it out to be. Robert Reich further observed that those affected by a potential mandate only amount to 3% of the population.
In other words, it’s not a major matter likely to prevent achieving final legislation. Perhaps there are other devils in the details that could become complications, but I doubt the mandate issue is one of them.
For the typically cautious Baucus to take such a bold progressive step is evidence that conservative claims of a “center-right” nation, despite the election results, are falling flat.
And the reverberations of the unmistakable progressive mandate have begun to be felt in the halls of Congress.