Baucus Defends Health Care, Didn't Read the Entire Bill

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Via The Hill's Jordan Fabian, the Flathead Beacon reports on a town-hall meeting held in Montana by Sen. Max Baucus, the Finance Committee Chairman who took a lead role in crafting the massive health care bill passed by Democrats and signed by President Obama this year. Fending off criticism from an angry constituent, Baucus says he didn't read the entire bill:

Judy Matott asked Baucus if he would work to improve Libby's image, and then asked him and Sebelius, "if either of you read the health care bill before it was passed and if not, that is the most despicable, irresponsible thing." 

Baucus replied that if Libby residents assembled an economic development plan, he would do what he could to help, and he took credit for "essentially" writing the health care bill that passed the Senate.

"I don't think you want me to waste my time to read every page of the health care bill. You know why? It's statutory language," Baucus said. "We hire experts." 

In response to Matott's question and another from a woman asking if the health care law was Constitutional, Baucus gave a broad defense of the changes, comparing them to programs like Social Security and Medicare that were unpopular when passed but have proven beneficial to Americans over the long term.

"It's not perfect, nothing's perfect, but I'm telling you, ma'am, it's a good start," Baucus said. "Mark my words, several years from now you're going to look back and say, 'eh, maybe it isn't so bad.'"

The "did you read the bill?" question surfaced routinely last August. The health care legislation totaled 961 pages (the Senate passed the main, 906-page bill at the end of 2009, then approved the House's 55-page reconciliation measure in March). 

Read the full story at the Flathead Beacon.

UPDATE: A comment from Baucus spokeswoman Erin Shields:

Senator Baucus wrote the bill that passed the Finance Committee and then worked with his colleagues to write the health care bill that is law today. He has spent years crafting this policy and hundreds of hours reading and perfecting it. There is simply no question that he understands the provisions in the health care law and knows it is a historic improvement that will make our health care system more affordable and accessible for families in Montana and across America.

It does seem highly implausible that Baucus didn't read the entire bill, and especially that he wouldn't be familiar with all its parts. Baucus released an 89-page white paper on health care after President Obama was elected, held 12 hearings on reform, and negotiated over its provisions for months in search of Republican support.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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