Become informed and defend your freedoms.  This is a website for citizens by an independent citizen.

The politics of Healthcare need reform

The Grassley Test

Kim Strassel,  WSJ, Jul 17, 2009

Forget Max Baucus, Henry Waxman and Rahm Emanuel. If there's one guy who may hold the whole health-care world in his hands, it's Sen. Chuck Grassley. That ought to have President Barack Obama worried.

The Iowan has for months served as GOP point man on ObamaCare. He has an unusually tight relationship with his Democratic counterpart, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. And he vowed early on that if there was a deal to be found, he'd find it.

That determination gave Republicans heartburn. Conservatives saw Mr. Obama's sweeping health ambitions, and saw no good coming from the Grassley-Baucus powwow. Fresh in their minds was Mr. Grassley's past work to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which the left marked as its first big step toward greater government health care.

Mr. Baucus knows that most major sustainable legislative achievements -- from the Reagan tax cuts to welfare reform -- have had bipartisan support. Getting Mr. Grassley's imprimatur meant getting moderate Republicans, maybe even a sizable chunk of the GOP. It meant shoring up nervous Dems.  It meant a health reform that might last.

It also meant listening to Mr. Grassley. Committed as he's been to getting legislation, the Iowan has been clear on what he considers nonnegotiable. The White House and liberal Democrats have cavalierly ignored these parameters, vexing him greatly in the process. There are growing signs the Republican may exit the table. He won't have walked away; he'll have been shoved.

Mr. Grassley took President Obama at his word that the goal of this exercise was to lower costs and insure more Americans. But from the start he rejected the idea that this could be accomplished by government squeezing out the private market. At a White House health-care event in March, the Republican publicly warned that a government-run health insurance program -- the public option -- was an "unfair competitor" and a no-go.

In the spirit of compromise, he instead gravitated toward North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad's proposal to set up a nonprofit cooperative to compete with private insurers. Savvy to stealth Democratic attempts to turn it into a de facto public option, he nonetheless issued ground rules about seeding it with government money and putting taxpayers on the hook if it fails. He wants no part of a "health-care Fannie Mae."

Along the way, Mr. Grassley delineated one other big requirement: Any bill had to be paid for from within the existing health-care system. No deficit spending. No Obama income tax hikes. An up-and-coming Tweeter, he reiterated his point Sunday, in response to House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel's proposed tax increases. "Chr Rangel wealthy 1pc make 27pc of total income pay 40pc of income tax U hv 5pc health care surtax How hi taxes go to satisfy u? Let's talk." Twitter shorthand aside, this is pretty clear.

Left to their camaraderie, Messrs. Baucus and Grassley might hammer this out. But Senate liberals, who never wanted compromise, are forcing Mr. Baucus to choose between their bread and Mr. Grassley's butter. The downward spiral began when Majority Leader Harry Reid, channeling the president, put the kibosh on Baucus-Grassley plans to pay for reform by taxing existing health benefits. The only quick and dirty way to fill the resulting $320 billion hole is with an income tax hike, which presumably loses Mr. Grassley. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, senior member of the leadership and Finance Committee, is meanwhile making it his personal mission to develop precisely the sort of co-op that Mr. Grassley will detest.

The White House has unwisely needled the key Republican. Mr. Grassley takes his bipartisanship seriously and likes to note that he and Mr. Baucus craft proposals jointly, starting with a blank sheet of paper. On a recent Sunday talk show Obama adviser David Axelrod nonetheless feted a rival Senate bill, to which Chris Dodd had belatedly tacked a few minor Republican amendments, as bipartisan. The comment drew an unusually sharp Grassley rebuke that "Republicans are not going to be hoodwinked." Mr. Axelrod's ensuing boast that the White House is prepared to do this with Democratic votes alone has further tempted the Iowan to let them try.

The administration's rigid demand that Congress vote on bills before the August recess has now brought the issue to a breaking point. Mr. Grassley has condemned the artificial deadline, but Mr. Baucus is under pressure to produce. Should the Democrat put out a bill or schedule a hearing before settling with his counterpart, Mr. Grassley is likely to stop trying.

In anticipation, the White House has stepped up its Republican wooing (this week summoning Maine's Susan Collins, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Tennessee's Bob Corker and Georgia's Saxby Chambliss). Yet what Mr. Grassley can give, he can arguably take away. The sight of the Republican most committed to getting a deal being dissed by the White House and a maniacal Senate leadership will dissuade further GOP compromise.

Combined with the Congressional Budget Office's terrifying analyses of how much this will cost, and its pronouncement yesterday that none of the existing Democratic bills will cut federal health costs, a Grassley defection could even cost Mr. Obama Democrats.

Mr. Grassley goes his own way, and he may yet irk Republicans. But so far he's serving as a good litmus test of how committed the Democratic majority is to working with the other side.