Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, August 03, 2009

  How unrepresentative is Baucus' healthcare group?

Healthcare reform has been stalled in Congress all summer as Sen. Max Baucus (Montana) slowly hashes out a "compromise" bill in private with a small group of colleagues, originally seven in number. The majority were Republicans, though they're vastly outnumbered in the Senate. Now that Orin Hatch has dropped out of the group, Democrats have parity in the remaining gang of six.

Many bloggers – though few corporate journalists - have pointed out that Baucus' group is grossly unrepresentative of America. All six senators come from sparsely populated states, five of which lie between the Rockies and the Mississippi. Between them, there's not a single large city. They have less than 4% of the country's population.

Well, here's another way to measure the unrepresentativeness of Baucus' group, via this new survey from Gallup of political affiliations across America. Gallup finds that Democrats have an edge of 5% or more in party identification over Republicans in all but 13 states. But four of the senators in Baucus' original group of seven come from those 13 Republican bastions.

Perhaps more significant still is the almost total absence of Democratic senators from solidly Democratic states. These are the members of the Senate who are best positioned, politically, to make the case for reforms that Democratic voters want.

But in Baucus' group there's only a single Democratic senator from any of the 37 states where Democrats have a significant advantage in voters' party identification (Jeff Bingaman from NM). To take just the 29 states that Gallup rates as "solidly Democratic" (with an edge of 10% or more in party ID), together they have 48 senators who are Democrats (or caucus with Democrats). Those 48 senators are represented by only a single voice at Baucus' private sessions.

Little wonder then that Baucus immediately ruled out considering a variety of single-payer programs that many Democratic voters support, like Medicare for all Americans. Little wonder too that Baucus has cut out of his private negotiations both his fellow Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee and the entire Democratic caucus to an astounding degree:

"At some point, [Baucus is] going to have to worry about getting Democratic votes,” said one Democratic Senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If they think that we’ll take whatever it is that comes out because we want to get something passed, they’re wrong."


However, the level of consultation with Democrats stands in contrast with how Republican negotiators are briefing their Members. Senators said Enzi, who is the ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, briefs leaders every day on the talks. And all three of the GOP negotiators have agreed to brief the entire GOP Conference before they sign on to any deal with Baucus. But Democrats said Baucus is unlikely to run any deal by his caucus before he shakes hands on an agreement with Republicans.

Baucus must figure that when you're talking to barely any Democrats from the most Democratic states, why bother talking to fellow Democrats at all?

crossposted at

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