The Washington Post is reporting that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) may have finally reached his breaking point. It is possible that Wyden will vote against Baucus’s bill in committee. This is news that shouldn’t shock anyone who has been following the health care debate.
Sen. Wyden is a health care policy wonk. He spent two years working with Sen. Bennett to try to craft a health care reform bill that would get bipartisan support and would be deficit reducing. Given Wyden’s commitment to bipartisan health care reform and his policy expertise, it was incredibly strange that Baucus shut him out of his “gang of six” negotiations. Wyden and Rockefeller (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee subcommittee on health care) are arguably the top two health care experts on the Senate Finance Committee. Leaving them out of the negotiations was major slight by Baucus.
Since being left out of the negotiations, Wyden has been working independently on his “free choice” amendments. It would have allowed anyone with employer provided insurance to select their own plan on the new exchange if they wanted. The idea received serious praise from health care policy writers. Jonathan Cohn called opposition to the idea “incredibly short-sighted.” Ezra Klein called it “the idea that could save health-care reform.” Matt Yglesias said, it “sounds like a pretty good idea.” Without passing judgment on the amendment, it would definitely be a game-changer that would move us away from employer-selected health insurance. Also importantly, the proposal was expected to save some serious money.
Baucus did not allow Wyden to bring up his “free choice” amendment until 1:30 in the morning on the very last day of mark up. When Wyden did bring up his amendment, Kent Conrad was informed via text message that “somehow” the CBO did not fully score Wyden’s amendment. Wyden had been told by the CBO that they did score his amendment. This is no small mistake. Wyden’s free choice amendment could have brought in over $100 billion in new revenue (even more if the bill also contained a strong public option). Wyden had to withdraw his amendment. Since this “mistake” was not “discovered” until the very last day of mark up, Wyden did not have a chance to get his amendment properly scored.
No one should be shocked that Wyden is both unhappy with the policies in the bill and how it was written. The possibility that Wyden would vote against the Baucus bill in committee sounds very real. If Wyden and Rockefeller both vote against the bill tomorrow, it is possible that it will not make it out of committee. I suspect Wyden is getting plenty of phone calls today.