Powerful Senate Democrats Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy released a joint statement today saying that they will have a healthcare reform bill ready before the Senate takes its August recess. The fact that Baucus, who opposes single payer, released a statement with Kennedy is a clear sign that single payer is in trouble.
The statement said, “For both of us, reforming the nation’s health care system to cut cost, improve quality and provide affordable coverage remains the top priority on our two committees. We have worked together closely over many months and will continue to do so. We intend to ensure that our committees report similar and complementary legislation that can be quickly merged into one bill for consideration on the Senate floor before the August recess.”
The statement was issued in response to media speculation that Kennedy and Baucus, who is the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, have been at odds with each other over a single payer healthcare reform plan. Baucus has long been opposed to single payer, and Kennedy has been a long time advocate.
The details of the bill that Kennedy is working on include a requirement that all Americans have health insurance, and an expansion of Medicaid to include the uninsured who earn up to 500 times below poverty level. Baucus has long favored a mixed plan that heavily relies on private insurance. If Baucus and Kennedy could come together on a bill, this would single Democratic unity on the issue.
I think that having the bill done by the August recess is an ambitious goal. However, getting a bill done is only the start of the process. I suspect that unless the bill is very liberal it will have few Democratic defectors. It will still be difficult to healthcare passed and signed by the end of the year, but it is possible. The only thing that could trip up the bill is if Democrats get caught up in an Party feud over the details of the bill.