Enzi Is A Closet Incrementalist, Can Health Reform Survive The Senate Finance Committee?

enziincTwo of the three Republicans working to pass a bipartisan health care reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee aren’t interested in producing comprehensive legislation. While Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the committee’s ranking member, is crisscrossing Iowa grossly misrepresenting the intent of reform, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WI) has indicated that he disagrees with “the entire approach the Finance Committee is taking:”

Congress should approach health care reform in steps, instead of trying to put together a comprehensive package said U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

Health care is so massive that reforms can’t be made with one major bill, which is what the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are pushing, Enzi told members of the Casper Rotary Club on Monday at the Parkway Plaza Hotel. […]

“We do need to have health care reform,” Enzi said.

“We do need to get it right. We need take the time to do it. I think the only way it will happen is we need to break it down into smaller parts than we have now and put it through one at a time.”

It’s unclear if Enzi has previously supported incremental reform. In October 2008, Enzi wrote, “I have introduced a comprehensive plan, 10 Steps to Transform Health Care in America, to make sure that every American can have the health care coverage they need….We could enact any one of these steps today and produce real results tomorrow.” “Steps” suggests incrementalism, but comprehensive implies a certain level of immediacy. Earlier this month, Enzi argued against a Sept. 15 deadline for the bill by saying that he was “committed to getting health care reform right, not finishing a bill by some arbitrary date.” In fact, he even tired to win assurances from Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi, as well as the Administration “that the bipartisan agreements reached in the Finance Committee will survive in a final bill that goes to the President.”

Enzi’s ambiguity says as much about Enzi and the Republican party as it does about Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and the viability of the six-party talks. As ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee, Enzi sat through a 12 days of mark-up, offered a series of amendments to the Kennedy bill, and pretended to support reforming the health care system through a single piece of legislation. Likewise, Enzi must have known that Baucus’ ‘six party talks’ were intended to produce a very similar measure. If he didn’t support the goal of the talks, why did he join the effort? And more importantly, why did Baucus invite Enzi to the table? Negotiating a comprehensive health care reform bill with an incrementalist is like debating the merits of the fur trade with a PETA representative. You have to overcome a certain hurdle and accept certain premises before agreeing to talks.

Democrats are understandably frustrated at Baucus’ lack of progress and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has even suggested that if the committee fails to produce a bill by the September 15th deadline, Democrats should push the Kennedy bill through the Senate and add the financing parts in conference. Enzi’s admission that he does not support immediate reform further suggests that Baucus’ bipartisan measure won’t make very good health care policy.