For months, White House officials and Senate leaders praised the “gang of six” negotiations toward a bipartisan deal on health care reform, even as other observers doubted the Republicans in that group were negotiating in good faith. At the beginning of the summer recess in August, Senator Jay Rockefeller (who was shut out of the deal-making) warned:
Changes to the bill have been frustrating, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) told reporters at a press conference, particularly given that the Republicans — Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Olympia Snowe of Maine — are, in his opinion, just stalling for time.
“You just watch as the bill diminishes in its scope, in its coverage, in its ferocity to try to attack the problem. I don’t know where it will come out,” Rockefeller said. “My own personal view is that those three Republicans won’t be there to vote it out of committee when it comes right down to it, so that this all will have been a three-or-four-month delay game, which is exactly what the Republicans want.”
No Republicans stood with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus last week as he finally unveiled what David Waldman described as “a plan that amounts to capitulating to every Republican demand, and then adding a heaping pile of political suicide on top of it.” The bill is in markup this week, and CA Berkeley WV has been blogging the Senate Finance Committee meetings for Congress Matters (day one, day two and day three).
Where does ranking Finance Committee member Grassley stand after Baucus bent over backwards to keep negotiating with him all summer? After the jump I’ve posted the relevant portion of a transcript from Grassley’s September 24 telephone news conference with Iowa reporters. The short version is, he’s against the bill because:
1. The individual mandate to buy health insurance amounts to “[q]uite a steep tax for people that maybe don’t pay a tax.”
2. Democrats supposedly were “not willing to go far enough” on enforcement to make sure illegal immigrants wouldn’t be covered.
3. Democrats supposedly “weren’t willing to go far enough to make sure that the subsidy through the tax credit was not used to finance abortions.”
4. You shouldn’t be “increasing taxes and cutting Medicare” when “we’re in depression.”
I told Iowa Republicans not to worry about Grassley voting for any health care reform bill. Senate Democrats should reject the concessions Baucus made to win GOP votes that are now off the table.
SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY, R-IOWA, HOLDS A NEWS TELECONFERENCE
SEPTEMBER 24, 2009
SPEAKER: SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY, R-IOWA
STAFF: The following is an unrehearsed interview with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, speaking to you live from Washington. Participating in today’s public affairs program are Mike Peterson with KMA Radio in Shenandoah and Steve Woodhouse with the Knoxville Journal Express in Knoxville.
The first question will be from Mike Peterson.
QUESTION: Senator, most people know that you are among the six members of Congress who have been negotiating on a health care reform bill. Specifically, what sort of measures would you like to see in a health care reform bill before you would approve of any such measure?
GRASSLEY: Well, I think your question has an understanding that about 10 days ago the group of six quit negotiating. We were, kind of, shoved aside, not by Senator Baucus, the chairman of the committee, but by people higher up than him, probably people in the White House and the Democratic leadership.
They probably didn’t like what he was negotiating for Democrats, anyway, and — and they were anxious to get started. Seemed more interested in getting it done right now, than getting it done right, whereas I think the group of six, including all three of the Democrats, were interested in doing it right in the first place, instead of right now.
And so, we, kind of, have split amicably. I guess you’d say we’ve been pushed aside amicably. There was never a harsh word said.
So let me answer your question then, based upon what the situation is right now, because as we talk, we’re in the middle of three or four days of debating the bill within committee.
And one — and maybe the most important would be what we call an individual mandate, a tax on people that don’t buy health insurance. And the rationale for it is kind of like having car insurance, you know. But health insurance is very, very expensive. And this would be a penalty of $3,800 on a family of four, $900 for an individual.
Quite a steep tax for people that maybe don’t pay a tax. And consequently, just something that we cannot go along with, particularly because I had an alternative that would have set up a reinsurance program that would have helped take care of most of this and leave it on a voluntary basis people buying insurance if they could afford it.
Another thing was not nailing down that — and I don’t want to say we disagree on illegal immigrants, I think both Republicans and Democrats don’t want them to get it, but I think we found on the Democrat side not willing to go far enough with enforcement.
Another one was that nobody wanted to change the present restrictions against funding abortion, but the Democrats weren’t willing to go far enough to make sure that the subsidy through the tax credit was not used to finance abortions, like money out of the federal treasury because of the Hyde amendment can’t be used.
And things of that nature have kept us apart. I’d say it’s probably down to a half a dozen things that keep us apart, but they’re probably 50 percent of all the controversy we’ve been dealing with.
QUESTION: And so with everything that the federal government is working on right now, can it really take on another huge portion of the economy, and really should it take on this portion of the economy, given our Constitution that doesn’t really guarantee anybody health care or anything else like that?
GRASSLEY: Well, you know, I wish there was a strong basis for that constitutional argument, and I’m not — or that constitutional point you made. And I’m not going to try to counteract it, because, strictly speaking, it’s not in the Constitution.
And, on the other hand, we’ve had Medicare for 40 years and I presume the courts have upheld Medicare; maybe more so with the individual mandate than with what we’re doing through a government program would be what you’re saying.
But let’s — I don’t want to forget the constitutional argument, because they’re legitimate. But also I think the other part of your question is more — is very current as well, and that is that: Can we afford it?
And I would say that the people that came to my town meetings came to the conclusion you could not afford it. But then, on the other hand, at the time of the August town meetings, the bills that were out there were increasing the deficit by a trillion dollars, and they weren’t doing anything about health costs inflation, whereas the bill — even the partisan bill that Senator Baucus brought out, is — doesn’t add anything to the deficit.
It is, in fact, a $900 trillion bill — $900 billion bill. But it is paid for. And it is — does attempt, I think in a very sincere way, to do something about inflation.
So it is better, from that standpoint. But you could still raise the issue of whether or not you ought to be increasing taxes and cutting Medicare at a time when — when this — when we’re in depression and things of that nature.
So I — I — it’s — I didn’t list it as one of the three or four reasons why we couldn’t get a bipartisan agreement, but it is — particularly when you’re taking money from Medicare, as you’ll see my votes yesterday on some amendments that were offered about Medicare, you can see that I think that it’s the wrong thing to be doing.