Less than a week after declaring the health-care law he largely wrote a "train wreck," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he will not seek a seventh term in 2014.
The news comes as a surprise to many, given that Baucus was actively fundraising until very recently. However, Baucus has dipped significantly in popularity, due in part to his prominent role in authoring and helping to pass the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"He really does live with this around his neck," said Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner, one of the leading health-care policy analysts in the nation. "He was to have been up for re-election in 2014 for the first time since shoving this through. He has $5 million in his campaign treasury, which in Montana should be plenty of money."
Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Last week, the panel heard from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Sebelius heard plenty from Chairman Baucus about concerns with the implementation of Obamacare.
"Small businesses have no idea what to do, what to expect. They don't know what affordability rules are. They don't know when penalties may apply. They just don't know," said Baucus to Sebelius. "I just see a huge train wreck coming. You and I have discussed this many times, and I don't see any results yet. I just see a huge train wreck."
Turner doesn't have much sympathy for Baucus when he can't tell small business owners what to expect.
"Well, maybe like Nancy Pelosi, he should have read the bill before he passed it so they can find out what was in it and see why people are so unhappy," she said. "It's coming home. He's finally having to say, 'I can't face the voters, having been instrumental in getting this miserable law enacted.'"
Turner said the law was doomed from the start, noting that the Baucus bill was never supposed to be the final product.
"That was never supposed to have been the final bill. This was supposed to have just been anything they could cobble together, literally a Christmas tree to try to get 60 votes in the Senate and they'd work on it with the House version and put it together," she said.
That plan blew up when Scott Brown won the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts and Democrats no longer had 60 votes to push a final version through the chamber. That's when the House passed the Senate plan and added changes which the Senate then approved through reconciliation on a simple majority vote.
Now, Turner said the nightmare of implementation is showing more inherent flaws in the system.
"What this hearing was about last week was about implementation. A lot of the Senate Democrats who are facing the voters for the first time since voting for this law are very worried that the implementation is going to be a train wreck. It is monstrously complex. They don't have the resources. They don't have the people. They don't have the expertise. They virtually cannot be done right. And they're going to try to slap it together, and a lot of them are very worried that it's going to be a sloppy mess," she said.
Turner said the application process for joining one of the new health-care exchanges is a microcosm of the bureaucratic nightmares to come.
"One component of that is gathering information from people so that they can then run that information past half a dozen different organizations – Homeland Security to make sure they're a citizen, the IRS, their employer, the Department of Treasury to figure out what their subsidies are going to be, the state Medicaid and S-CHIP rolls. There's no system that can aggregate all that data for 20 million people that are going to be figuring out how to file a 21-page application that has a 61-page appendix. How is that even possibly going to work," Turner said.
Meanwhile, Turner is defending House Republicans for moving to shore up funding for Americans who had previously been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The new health-care law allotted $5 billion to help cover higher premiums for those patients, but the cost estimates came in far too low. Many conservative activists blasted the GOP for what they believe is aiding and abetting Obamacare, but Turner said it's the right move.
"The administration said we can't take any more enrollees. We're going to stop enrollment now and only take care of the people who are enrolled. The House said, 'Well, you've got this other slush fund over here that's called preventive care, but it really can be used for anything by the secretary, and let's redirect that money to help people so that the people that could enroll by the end of the year can continue to get coverage.' The administration, instead, wants to use this money to advertise all the benefits of Obamacare and to hire what I'm sure will be a lot of community organizers to help enroll people in this coverage," she said.
Turner said the money would only run through this year and would not be an ongoing program, so she said it's simply a choice between Obamacare activism and advertising or helping people get the coverage they need.