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5 Reasons the Baucus Health Bill Fails the Basics

The Baucus health care proposal is a terrible bill. And the Senate's foremost health care expert is having none of it.

On a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.V., laid out the reasons why he will vote against the health care reform proposal released by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., on Wednesday. The bill requires significant changes before it will win his vote, Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller's defiance is significant because he chairs the Senate Finance's health subcommittee and was locked out of negotiations on the bill when Baucus threw all his eggs in the basket of imaginary bipartisanship by appointing a "Gang of Six" -- three uncompromising Republicans and two malleable Democrats (in addition to himself) -- to hammer out the legislation, which contains no public health insurance plan but does contain a number of other provisions that Rockefeller finds troubling.

"[T]here's no way that I can vote for the Senate [Finance] package for a lot of reasons and, obviously, the lack of a public option is one of them," Rockefeller told reporters -- even if it meant Baucus' proposal never made it out of the committee to face a vote by the full Senate.

"I'm not going to worry about is it coming out of the committee or is it not coming out of the committee," Rockefeller said. "I'm going to vote based upon what I feel."

Rockefeller is known in the Senate as a health care expert; on the conference call, Roger Hickey, of the Campaign for America's Future, referred to Rockefeller as the most knowledgeable person in the Senate on the topic now that Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has died.

A stalwart proponent of the public health insurance option featured in the other health-reform bills currently before Congress, Rockefeller credited his overall position on health care to his work as a Vista volunteer in the 1960s. Vista was a Peace Corps-style program that focused on impoverished areas of the United States.

Asked about President Barack Obama's desire to get some kind of health care plan passed, and pressure by the administration to pass something -- anything -- Rockefeller told reporters, "It does represent a worry of mine … that if it becomes just a question of passing something so that you can say you did health care reform, then you really didn't do what we have an historic opportunity [to do]. That I find very distressing."

He then deferred to Yale professor Jacob Hacker, who was brought onto the call by Rockefeller to serve as an expert.

"It's been said that we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Hacker said, "but I would also say that we shouldn't let the terrible be the ally of the expedient."

As laid out by Rockefeller, the Baucus proposal appears to be quite terrible. The bill will goes before the full committee next week for mark-up, when senators on the committee will be allowed to offer amendments to the legislation.

"I will have many, many, many amendments," Rockefeller said, including one for a public option.

Here is a summary of the reasons Rockefeller gave for his promise to vote against the Baucus bill, unless significant changes are made:

1. No public option. Rockefeller urged that reporters not buy into the conventional wisdom that health care reform cannot pass if a public option is included in the final bill.

"It's amazing what happens when it comes down to crunch time -- when people really have to go on record," he said. Everything we've seen up until now, he explained, is posturing. "Things can shift," he said.

Without a public health insurance plan, Rockefeller says, private insurers will face no meaningful competition, which is necessary for driving down costs.