Senator Baucus certainly deserves credit for one thing. Being able to make this remark to a reporter about increasing access to health care without bursting into laughter must have taken a remarkable degree of self-control:
“I want the Finance Committee to be ready, to be ahead of the curve,” he said. “That’s why I’ve begun hearings, getting the facts out, pushing the edge of the envelope.”
As much as I’d like to believe that Senator Baucus is truly interested in protecting the the 47 million Americans without health insurance, I have to admit that it crossed my mind as I read the piece that Senator Baucus might just be saying this because he is running for re-election. After all, hasn’t he had a few decades in Washington on the Finance Committee to make this happen?
No, instead of being ahead of the curve on universal health care, he’s chosen to be ahead of the curve on incredibly irresponsible tax cuts, Medicare giveaways to giant pharmaceuticals, and protecting the economic interests of struggling farmers to make millions every year. While there certainly have been some positive steps from Senator Baucus, like his work on the SCHIP program, no one can seriously believe that he can be at the forefront of ensuring universal access to health care.
Consider what he said in 1992:
`No more scotch tape and baling wire,” said Senator Max Baucus, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, who spoke at the AAPS regional meeting in Great Falls, Montana, on June 20. “It’s time for fundamental reform, not tinkering.”
Although he does not believe that significant changes will occur in this session of Congress, he thinks they will not be long delayed. . .
Medical insurance as an employment benefit was an “accident of history,” the Senator said, a side effect of the Nixon wage- and-price controls. Increases in health benefits were not counted as a wage increase.
And today? 16 years later?
“Now is the time to seriously address health care reform,” he said. “It’s been kind of simmering around the edges for a while, but it’s close to reaching a boil right now….
“We will have insurance companies in America,” Baucus said. “We’ll have uniquely American solutions.
“Those (other) countries have a different history of the public sector providing health insurance. That’s their history, that’s their culture. We Americans are a younger country, and we’re founded on a principle of independence, on free markets.”
This story illustrates just what is so frustrating about Senator Baucus. He talks the right talk when it comes to Democratic issues, but when it comes to vote, far too often his decisions are the ones that benefit corporate interests, from the insurance industry to major banking interests, often at the expense of individuals.
Just short of 17% of Montanans have no health insurance, one of the highest rates in the nation, and much higher than any of our neighboring states. Promises aren’t going to get them to doctors, promises aren’t going to ensure that they can stay productive and healthy. It’s time to stop the press releases about leading, Senator Baucus, and time to start leading.
Senator Baucus could have such a profound impact on the lives of ordinary, working Montanans and Americans, if he’d invest real energy into health care reform, rather than just talk about it. All these of experience in the Senate don’t mean much if they haven’t taught him who he really represents. ((Standard caveat: If you’re undecided, his opponents will be worse. Just sayin’.))