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More Decisions Await Harry Reid

Jeff Young reminds us that besides rounding up 60 votes for cloture on a bill that includes an opt-out public option, Harry Reid still has a lot of decisions to make about the other aspects of health reform:

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat in the upper chamber, said Wednesday that insurance affordability, a controversial excise tax on high-cost insurance plans, whether most employers will be required to offer health benefits, how to raise needed tax dollars and whether to create a federal long-term-care insurance program are the remaining issues.

One potential upside to Olympia Snowe’s apparent decision to drop her support for health reform is that this may allow us to revisit the issue of the Baucus bill’s ill-conceived effort to replace an employer mandate with a “free rider” fee. In an employer mandate, an employer either needs to pay for his employees’ health insurance or else pay a tax which helps the government afford subsidies for people in need. That’s not a great policy in the abstract, but it’s a reasonable approach to dealing with the legacy of our existing institutions and building on what exists. The free rider fee amounts to a special tax on companies that hire poor people or people with families. It has no real advantages over the straight mandate alternative, but apparently Snowe has a strong preference for it.

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