Senator Baucus: Ahead of the Curve on Health Care? I Think He’s Already Struck Out

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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’.))

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

16 Comments

  • Max has pandered so long to the Reagan appointed bush dynasty for so long I am not sure he remembers even being a democrat let alone act like one. The very fact that this entrenched “go along to get along” embarrassment has the power now to shape our future health policy has me more nervous than when the republicans were in charge of congress. At least you knew what they wanted to do. The fact is that the medical establishments in this country are in a shambles because the insurance companies that “own” Baucus mean to keep it that way. There is a lot of profit to be made skimming, skating and scamming the patients and the medical community out of every last dollar they can. Baucus knows this. He is not confused about it. But, they pay his bills so he just goes along to get along while the rest of us insured and uninsured alike are screwed to the wall.

  • It’s certainly frustrating as a Democrat in Montana. I mean, it’s clear that Baucus’s GOP opponents would be disasters in the Senate, but it’s also equally clear that he is very marginally a Democrat. Whether it’s taxes or health care or the war or Supreme Court justices, Baucus seems to be on the wrong side of the issue.

    Even on issues he does end up supporting (like the minimum wage and children’s health care) there is all too often an unholy compromise.

  • You are right…Baucus didn’t achieve universal health care back in 1992…and neither did Clinton, Kennedy, or any other Democrat that has been working since then to provide better access and coverage to working people. The policy process is slow, and responds better to pragmatic leaders than reactionaries. Despite not achieving the impossible as a universal care superhero, Baucus has worked to expand health insurance for children through CHIP, ensured that Montana’s rural hospitals can still provide emergency care, and worked to level the playing field on Medicare reimbursement. I’ll take that record.

  • Pragmatic is one thing. 16 years?

    What about the ideological gap in that time, from arguing that health insurance as an accident of history to arguing that unique, American solutions require the same private insurance companies that Baucus acknowledges are skimming from the system for obscene profits?

    It’s not enough to say you’re a Democratic; Baucus needs to occasionally act like one.

  • While it’s true that Max Baucus might sometimes have to compromise on issues that are important to his progressive constituents, he is a Montanan and works incredibly hard for our well being. He is bringing $75,000,000 more to Montana with Federal Matching Funds with his work on SCHIP, which will insure 30,000 more uninsured children in Montana. SCHIP provides more access to health insurance for kids and doesn’t cost Montanans a single extra cent. It’s all money that insurance companies pay into a general fund here, and that money will just be rechanneled to kids and in a way that gets us $75,000,000 in new funding. Baucus also made sure we had emergency services in our rural areas here. Under Max’s watch we have 45 Montana’s Critical Access Hospitals with 24 hour care.

  • Baucus is not evil- he is pragmatic that is why he panders to the insurance companies. They pay him dearly for his services. If he had his health benefits questioned and denied by ruthless profiteering insurance companies like we do he would be far more determined to overhaul the system and drive the hypocrites from our medical institutions. Instead, Baucus stays the course of least resistance which is currently driving all our general practitioner physicians out of business and forcing us citizens insured and uninsured alike to suffer under the arrogant boot heels of over 1500 insurance companies all pretending to be Health Maintenance Organizations when all they do is prevent health in this country so their profits soar.

  • by the way Butte, do not label me. I am not now nor will I ever be a “progressive” I am a fairly conservative independent voter who just wants this country to quit making excuses for evil corporations and to not be so damned timid in demanding that our representatives do their GD job in an honest and forthright manner. I suppose your insurance company has never denied a claim of yours. If not, then I congratulate you. You would be the first person I have met who did not. As for the rest of us, it is time to say that we are tired of being screwed by people like Baucus who know better. The middle class workers in this country need to start demanding some attention on lots of issues by congress. I would settle for some honest work on the huge swindle being thrust upon us by greedy insurance companies.

  • *An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

  • Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. However just imagine if you added some great photos or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and video clips, this website could certainly be one of the most beneficial in its niche. Excellent blog!

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