The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein has a nuanced profile of Montana Senator Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and the person most likely to make or break any prospects for health reform next year.
As the article points out, Baucus has a mixed health record, siding with Republicans on some issues like Medicare Part D (which most consumer groups, including Health Access California, opposed) and President Bush’s first tax cut, working closely with the ranking Republican, Chuck Grassley. Yet he led the fight against the privatization of Social Security, and for SCHIP reauthorization and Medicare payment reforms earlier this year.
The article ends with optimism:
In June, Baucus assembled his whole committee in the Mumford Room of the James Madison Building for a daylong health-care conference called “Prepare for Launch.” The event began with Baucus standing before a projection screen that showed a space shuttle firing its way into orbit. “I think that video captures the essence of what we’re trying to do today,” said Baucus proudly. “Which is prepare for the launch of health reform.”
In this, he is proving the opposite of the finance chair who last presided over a major attempt at health reform: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who aggressively opposed Clinton’s health-care plan in 1994. Moynihan went as far as to appear on Meet the Press to accuse Clinton of using “fantasy numbers” and declare that “there is no health-care crisis.” By contrast, Baucus has spent the last year holding a series of hearings meant to convince his committee and the country that there is a health-care crisis. He’s staffed up his health-policy team, consulted with outside experts, and held individual meetings with his members. And if Barack Obama wins in November, Baucus, unlike Moynihan, is likely to enjoy a good relationship with the incoming administration. The Obama campaign’s chief of staff, Jim Messina, was hired out of Baucus’ office. “If you asked what would Baucus be doing this summer,” says one liberal health reformer who’s long been skeptical of Baucus’ commitment to the issue, “I could not have mapped out a better strategy for him to follow. He’s doing it.”
Baucus seems interested and invested in health reform, but it is unclear on what type of reform. He does have moderate, if not conservative, tendencies. If Senator Obama wins, he may be especially pushing for a win, or at least a good showing, in Montana. To the extent that Obama does well in Montana (and Iowa), he can show a mandate for his health plan to Baucus (and Grassley) in their home state.