Baucus On Obamacare Train Wreck – “major legislation” has to be “bipartisan”

December 18th, 2013

Max Baucus, the Senator who guided the Affordable Care Act through committee, has been appointed by the President as Ambassador to China. He gave an interview with the Times, and had some comments about the rollout of Obamacare:

Now, if he is confirmed, Mr. Baucus, who had already announced that he would not run for re-election in 2014, will join the administration whose bureaucratic ineptitude he foresaw in April when he warned of a “huge train wreck” if officials did not do a better job explaining the Affordable Care Act. . . . .

In a wide-ranging conversation on the health overhaul in his Capitol Hill office last week, before Wednesday’s news of his impending nomination, Mr. Baucus said he had a “flash of anger” over its bungled rollout. He also said that the law did not do enough to control costs and that Kathleen Sebelius, Mr. Obama’s health secretary, and her top aides delivered only “platitudes” when he asked them for specifics on how they would carry out the health overhaul.

“The more I asked,” he said, “the more concerned I became.”

But today the law is as much Mr. Baucus’s legacy as Mr. Obama’s. In 2009, it fell to Mr. Baucus to shepherd the health measure through the Senate by dint of his committee chairmanship and the death of the chamber’s leading voice on health care, Edward M. Kennedy. Although he remains a champion, and says Americans will ultimately embrace it, he expects it might take a decade.

Max makes a point I’ve repeated umpteen times. This law was passed on a straight party line vote. This makes the law, in Baucus’s words not “sustainable.”

He continues to fret that the health care law had no Republican support in either the Senate or the House. “It is my belief that for major legislation to be durable, sustainable, it has to be bipartisan,” Mr. Baucus said. “I mean, one party can’t jam legislation down the other party’s throat. It leaves a bitter taste.”

Of course it was Baucus who voted on that party-line. Though, he was responsible for spiking the public option, so the bill could proceed.

As Mr. Obama ran for president in 2008, with universal health care coverage as a major campaign theme, Mr. Baucus began preparing for the legislation. He held hearings, convened a bipartisan retreat and spent months pursuing Republicans on his committee, and eventually got one — Olympia J. Snowe of Maine — to vote for the measure. “He was relentless,” said Ms. Snowe, now retired. She ultimately rejected the more liberal bill fashioned by the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid.

The courtship frustrated Democrats, who said that Mr. Baucus was jeopardizing the bill’s chances. Among the critics was Jim Messina, a former Baucus aide who regards the senator as a second father and was then Mr. Obama’s deputy chief of staff.

“I thought the negotiations with Republicans went on too long and was very loud in my opinion about that,” Mr. Messina said.

But Republicans gave Mr. Baucus credit. “It was a very, very difficult assignment for him,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah.

On the “train wreck” comment, Baucus indicated he did to send a “message” to the White House.

Baucus says the “train wreck” remark grew out of his frustration with administration officials whose testimony on the readiness of, the online insurance exchange, “didn’t pass the smell test.” He said that it was intended as a message to the White House and that he did not regret it.

“Got their attention,” he said.

The next day, Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, started biweekly meetings with Mr. Baucus and arranged for weekly phone calls with Ms. Sebelius.

And did the President lie about being ready. Baucus seems unsure.

In the months before the exchange went live Oct. 1, Mr. Baucus said the two repeatedly assured him that would be ready.

Did they lie? “I don’t think so; I don’t know,” Mr. Baucus said.

Very interesting interview. This appointment to the position in China is the proverbial Briar Patch.