Senators Divided over Healthcare Overhaul

After months during which the White House  ignored liberals as it courted centrists to join the president’s signature cause, liberal lawmakers have finally attracted the administration’s attention. They, in turn, have to decide how far to press their case.

All summer, the White House deferred to Senator Max Baucus, the Democrat from Montana who heads the Senate Finance Committee, as he negotiated with two moderate Democrats and three Republicans. Their failure to agree on a bipartisan bill left the administration scrambling to pass an overhaul with Democratic votes alone.

And that has emboldened liberals like the 72-year-old Mr. Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat. He heads the health subcommittee of Mr. Baucus’s panel, and yet he was relegated to the sidelines as the so-called Gang of Six talked and talked. Senate liberals are now pushing for an overhaul fully on Democratic terms — legislation more like that in the House, where liberal Democrats dominate.

“I represent a state that really needs health care reform, and I want it to be good,” said Mr. Rockefeller, who came to West Virginia 45 years ago with the Vista program to teach in a mining town. “It doesn’t make me liberal,” he added. “I care. That’s the Vista volunteer in me. My passion has not diminished one bit since 1964.”

Compared with the Baucus bill, a liberal package would include more generous subsidies for working-class families and small businesses to buy coverage, The New York Times reports.

In the meantime, the tax, proposed as a way to help finance coverage of the uninsured, would be levied on insurance companies. But the senators said they worried that it would be passed on to individual policyholders, families and employers who buy insurance for their workers.

The tax is in a sweeping health care bill unveiled on Wednesday by the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana. It would raise $215 billion over 10 years, offsetting about one-quarter of the cost of the bill.

Many Democrats said they were also concerned that insurance would still be unaffordable to many middle-income people, even with tax credits and subsidies proposed by Mr. Baucus.

Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, voiced the same concern. In an interview with The New York Times and CNBC, Ms. Snowe said that for her to support the bill, “there would have to be more subsidies” for low- and middle-income people and that she was trying to figure out how to pay for them.

Ms. Snowe said “the time has come” to pass comprehensive health legislation. But she added that it was important to get the policy and the details right, because they would affect every American, The New York Times reports.

It was also reported, Senator Max Baucus released his health care proposal, known as the chairman’s “mark.”

At first glance, the mark comes across as a victory for the private insurance industry, which is why it was promptly attacked as a sell-out by liberal pundits (see, for example, this).

But the health insurance industry may yet come to see it as a variant of winner’s curse — a term economists use to describe situations in which a winner regrets getting what he wished for.

To the industry’s relief, the plan does not call for the much-feared Medicare-like public health insurance option. It offers instead the fig-leaf of consumer-driven health insurance cooperatives that are to be established with some $6 billion in federal seed money, The New York Times reports.