I joined a group of reporters yesterday who’d spent hours waiting outside the Senate Finance Committee hearing room for the private meeting of that public body to conclude, and heard a lot of jokes about the fact that Senators Baucus and Grassley were probably going to come out and announce — nothing. "Everything’s on the table" has been their repeated mantra, and they didn’t disappoint when they finally graced us with their presence after 6:30pm.
When everyone started shouting questions trying to pin Baucus and Grassely down on something, anything, that was decided in the meeting, you could hear the frustration when they refused to give much new information. Grassley went so far as to explain that so far Senators have more or less just been airing their differences. The glaring question that no one asked was how, if everything’s still under discussion, the individual mandate (a requirement that every individual have health insurance or pay a penalty) has managed to become the Finance Committee’s baseline for reform?
The only thing the Senators would admit they agreed on was creating some sort of national exchange where everyone could purchase insurance, and making them do it.
The one glimmer of hope was a reporter who expressed her surprise to me before the Senators emerged that no one was questioning whether a mandate is a good idea, or even how it had become a given. Hopefully, more members of the media have the same curiosity, and speak up next time they have the chance. Senator Baucus has apparently decided not to answer when we ask.