The Senate Finance Committee has been meeting secretly for months — months — reportedly creating a plan to pay for getting Americans something still well short of the full health care coverage enjoyed by every other industrialized country on the planet.
But despite repeated assurances from Chairman Baucus that wonderful bipartisan progress was coming, all these people have been able to come up with so far is a list of options.
It’s not that different from lists reputable analysts had already compiled and published. But the Committee apparently hasn’t been able to agree on anything, because, as Olympia Snowe so thoughtfully explains, deciding how to raise taxes to keep 20,000 people from dying every year is hard work.
According to various reports — Ezra Klein, Jonathon Cohn, NYT — the list includes about 20 options, including the following possible new taxes/savings (estimates are over 10 years): (big thanks to Ezra Klein for the summaries)
1. A tax surcharge on those making $250,000 and above. The surcharge might be 2 percent for the amounts above $250,000, more for amounts above $500,000 and 4 percent for amounts above $1,000,000. The House is seriously considering a surcharge. Estimated revenues = $350 to $500 billion.
2. A tax on health benefits above a very high level. If, for example, the upper-end cost of insuring members of Congress were $17,000/year (Via Kaiser study of employer-provided plans, in 2008, the national average insurance for a family of four cost about $12,800), then a tax would kick in when the benefit exceeds that amount by, say 50 percent. Baucus and economists like the concept, but Obama, labor, and many Dems don’t. Estimated revenues = $90 to $234 billion.
3. Limit the tax deductions for itemized deductions for those with very high incomes. If their marginal tax rate moves from 35 to 39 percent (when Bush tax cuts expire) then limit the deduction to 28 or 35 percent. This Obama proposal is disliked by Sen. Baucus but is still on the table. Estimated revenues = $90 to $267 billion.
4. Raise the current payroll tax on employees/employers by, e.g., 0.3 percent. Estimated revenues = $275 billion.
5. Consumption or value/added taxes. E.g., tax sugary drinks, beer, etc. These are not progressive measures, and their effect on reducing consumption is unclear. Estimate revenues = $30 to $100 billion.
6. Tax insurance companies for each person they insure. Estimated revnues = $75 to $100 billion.
7. And there are various proposals to cut federal payments to Medicare, which WH Budget Director Orszag is pushing on the grounds, e.g., that once more people are insured, current payments to providers for caring for uninsured people will decrease. Estimated savings = several hundred billions.
Under the current less than full coverage proposals, all they need to do is come up with about $1.2 trillion in taxes or cost savings over ten years, in a system that is costing us $2.2 trillion every year and escalating at 3 to 4 times the rate of inflation.
If the nation were in wars that would likely cost $3 trillion, and thousands of our troops were endangered because the Senate Finance Committee couldn’t agree on a revenue plan to pay for their safety, the American people would wonder why these scoundrels weren’t run out of town with pitchforks. Of course, Senate Finance, and Congress generally, still haven’t come up with a plan to pay that $3 trillion.
So when nearly 20,000 people die every year because they can’t afford health insurance and a million people a year face bankruptcy driven in large part because they were uninsured or fraudulently insured by an industry whose persistence depends on denying coverage, we probably shouldn’t be surprised by all the Senate dawdling, but the same accountability principle should apply.
We need less stalling from the Finance Committee, less whining from its members and more results. There are people dying while these Senators dawdle.