Baucus: Health Care Bill Can Grow Over Time, Just Like Social Security

Earlier today, I noted that Sen. Max Baucus inadvertently confirmed an argument that conservatives have been trying to make throughout this health care debate — that it’s important to pay attention not just to what is written in the legislation, but the infastructure it puts in place. As I’ve written from the beginning of this debate, none of the major Democratic proposals would represent a government takeover of health care immediately, but all of them would help make that happen over time, assuming action by future lawmakers. This has been the case with every government program.

I now have Baucus’s exact remarks, with video. The context is, he’s trying to get liberals to understand why he opposes a “public option” and believes that they should accept the best deal that they can get:

“It’s also important to remind ourselves that Rome wasn’t built in a day. And only few major pieces of legislation were totally complete upon enactment. For example, in 1935 this is what President Roosevelt said about Social Security. He said, and I quote, “This law too represents a cornerstone in the structure which is being built but is by no means complete.” That’s what he said. And we could also say that about this bill. We hope that it will be the cornerstone of meaningful reform. I think that it will be. But it is by no means a complete rewriting of the American health care system. We very much hope and expect this bill will work but if there are things that do not work about it we will revisit it. We will amend it just as we did with Social Security. The point is that today this year we need to start to lay that foundation and I fear that if this provision is in this bill as it comes out of this committee, it will jeopardize meaningful real health care reform. It will jeopardize laying that cornerstone this year.”

Now, if I were trying to make the argument that Baucus’s health care bill will lead to far more government intrusion than he is currently letting on, I don’t think I could come up with a better example than Social Security. When originally created, Social Security was supposed to be a modest safety net, it was supposed to have a trust fund that kept the program solvent, and the payroll tax was just 1 percent each on employees and employers, or 2 percent total. But it evolved into key source of income for seniors whose life expectancy has swelled by 15 years since legislation was enacted, the illusionary trust fund has been raided to finance other government programs, and the payroll tax has been raised 20 times, bringing it to 6.2 percent each for employee and employer, or 12.4 percent total. The program is now insolvent, and along with those other government behomeoths that grew beyond their original intentions — Medicare and Medicaid — Social Security is bankrupting our country. Yet it remains politically untouchable.

So, keep this in mind when you hear all of Baucus’s arguments and reassurances as to why his plan isn’t a government takeover of health care. As it stands, the bill forces individuals to purchase insurance or pay a tax; it drastically expands Medicaid; it provides subsidies to individuals to purchase insurance; it creates government-run exchanges on which people would purchase government-designed insurance plans; it taxes medical device makers, clinical laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies; and it creates a new tax-exempt status for non-profit health care plans that would have access to federal dollars to fund start up costs. But as Baucus himself says, this is merely a “cornerstone.” Over time, there’s no reason why lawmakers couldn’t add a mandate forcing employers to provide coverage or pay a tax; raise the penalties for not owning insurance; increase the subsidies to purchase insurance; add more regulations on top of the myriad of regulations already included in the bill; force more people to get their insurance through the government-run exchanges; and yes, even add a government-run plan to the  exchanges. And don’t forget, the Baucus plan is financed primarily through “savings” generated by cutting Medicare — but future lawmakers may simply decide not to make those cuts, thus creating massive new deficits on top of our already perilous mountain of debt. 

Conservatives understand that even without a government plan, Democrats can move the ball well down the field and toward the goal of government-run health care. Baucus has now acknowledged it. It’s time to make sure the rest of the country realizes what’s at stake.