In Helena, Baucus Touts Stimulus and Renews Push for Health Care Reform

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – In a speech to the state Legislature Wednesday, Sen. Max Baucus told lawmakers he believed the recently passed federal stimulus package would soon “provide the jolt our economy needs,” and spoke of the renewed need for comprehensive health care reform as a part of any economic recovery. But in a caucus meeting just prior with Democratic lawmakers in the basement of the statehouse, Montana’s senior Democratic senator spoke in much more candid and specific terms about the economy, and what he believed President Barack Obama’s priorities would be in fixing it.

One day after watching Obama sign the stimulus bill, officially titled the “American Recovery and Relief Act,” Baucus said he thinks “the President is doing the right thing,” and agrees with Obama’s assertion that the bill’s passage could signal the “beginning of the end” for the recession. While the country faces the worst economic crisis in 80 years, he said America is “not close to a depression,” and though the stimulus bill, much maligned by Republicans, may not be perfect, “clearly the better answer is not to watch but to do something.”

“I think we’re very much beginning to be on the right track,” Baucus said. “It’s the beginning of rising up and finally seeing some progress here.”

The stimulus bill, along with the necessity of freeing up the credit markets and Obama’s initiative to stanch foreclosures and the housing crisis were three components that would get the country’s economy back on track, he said.

On the same day that a bill to fund a voter-approved expansion of health insurance for children deadlocked in a legislative appropriations committee along party lines, with Republicans opposed, Baucus touted his increase of federal funding for the Childrens Health Insurance Program.

“I sure hope that gets resolved favorably,” he said of the legislative impasse. “Montana voters spoke loud and clear for that; to me it’s a no-brainer.”

Baucus also made clear the effort to reform health care was not going to be sidetracked by Tom Daschle’s decision to step down as the nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, and that he believed the Obama administration would push an ambitious energy-related bill, then focus on health care reform.

“The game plan right now, is that it’s number two after energy,” Baucus said.

To keep the issue front and center, Baucus said he has been strongly urging Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, to see that strong language on health care reform is inserted into the new president’s State of the Union address.

The current health care system puts many U.S. companies, required to pay for employees’ health insurance, at a disadvantage against overseas competitors based in countries with nationalized health care, Baucus said, and as the business community increasingly comes to support some type of health care reform, so too might Republicans.

“I think the stars are now aligned,” Baucus said. “Nothing’s being slowed down.”

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