Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No Health Care Bill This Year

The way things look, there isn’t going to be a health care bill this year.

It has become clear in the last three days that the Baucus bill was never intended to pass the Senate Finance Committee, but was meant as a basis for discussion. Extended discussion over a period of months would be needed to remedy the hundreds of flaws in the bill. And even if that process could be completed, the result would be a bill that the rest of the Senate would not be able to support and the House would not agree with.

The House, for its part, is preparing to pass a different bill that would surely face filibuster in the Senate.

It may very well be that the health care situation simply isn’t dire enough yet to force decisive action from Congress.

Part of the debate going on is a semantic argument over whether the proposed individual health coverage mandate is a tax. In economic terms, it absolutely is a tax. Any time the government forces people to pay money unconditionally, or just on the condition of being a resident of a particular place, that is what the word tax means. The fact that this particular tax would be levied by and paid to insurance companies, at least in the Baucus bill, is horrifically bad governance and probably unconstitutional, but does not change the fact that it is a tax. The continuing confusion over this detail shows how far away the politicians are from solving this particular problem.

But the health care issue is not going away. Something cannot be one fourth of the total economy without raising questions of government policy. Adding urgency to the questions, the current system of financing health care is teetering toward collapse. If nothing is done now, the situation will simply continue to deteriorate. Eventually it will get so bad that even politicians will see the need to do something.