Self-Important Rural Senators Dictate Health Policy

This man is writing health care policy.

This man is writing health care policy.

The news last night was that the Senate Finance Committee has agreed to exclude a public option and an employer mandate. But don’t worry, the merry centrist band of rural health care crusaders Baucus (MT), Conrad (ND), Bingaman (NM), Snowe (ME), Grassley (IA), and Enzi (WY) are working hard on making compromises and eating chocolate-covered potato chips!

WASHINGTON — On the agenda is the revamping of the American health care system, possibly the most complex legislation in modern history. But on the table, in a conference room where the bill is being hashed out by six senators, the snacks are anything but healthy.

Last week, there were chippers — chocolate-covered potato chips — described on a sign as “North Dakota Diet Food.” More often, there are Doritos, pretzels, Oreo cookies and beef jerky: fuel to get through hours of talks on topics like the actuarial values of private insurance plans or the cost-sharing provisions of Medicare.

Wow, we know this courtesy of Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn, who were obviously used by Max Baucus to allay criticism from the left that Finance’s clandestine negotiations were ruining prospects for health care reform. You can tell, because the entire article focuses entirely on process and humanizing details and doesn’t once mention that the Senators involved are trying to craft a good bill. Instead, we learn things like this:

“The talks are free-flowing,” Ms. Snowe said. “Max is very inclusive,” she said of Mr. Baucus.

Members of the group methodically work through issues. When they reach a tentative agreement, Mr. Baucus asks, “Can I put down a ‘T’?”

“It’s very businesslike,” Mr. Conrad said. “Everybody participates. One senator might carry a discussion. Others chime in. Senator Baucus, the chairman, is the leader, but he rides with a very light rein.”

Of course, the point of health care reform is to provide affordable, good coverage for 47 million uninsured Americans while slowing the growth of health expenditures, not to have free-flowing talks where everyone feels happy about their contributions. As a final note, I’ll just point out that in the perverse world of the United States Senate, the self-appointed bipartisan health care team represents a grand total of 8,174,956 Americans, or less than 3 percent of the country.

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