The “bugs” that have plagued the rollout of U.S. health-insurance exchanges will be fixed by Dec. 15, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, the lead author of the 2010 health-care law.
Baucus said earlier this year that he saw a potential “train wreck” occurring if President Barack Obama’s administration didn’t improve efforts to inform the public about the law. The federal exchanges, which opened Oct. 1, have suffered from technical problems in signing up Americans, most of whom are required to have insurance starting in January 2014.
“I have the utmost confidence that every amount of energy is being devoted to solving -- getting these patches out to fix the bugs,” Baucus said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “We’ll find a way.” For coverage to start Jan. 1, signup by Dec. 15 is required.
Speaking in an interview later in the program, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, echoed Baucus’s remarks, saying the administration is making “strong progress” on the health-care law.
“The administration has put together a team and is deeply focused on the issues of, how do we fix those problems?” she said.
Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the prospects for his next major initiative -- significant changes to the U.S. tax code -- were “quite good.”
He said he hoped to release discussion drafts of tax-code revisions by the end of the year.
Baucus, 71, said he’d like to see the top corporate tax rate lowered to the “high 20s,” down from 35 percent currently, though higher than the 25 percent target set by his House Republican counterpart, Dave Camp. Obama has called for a 28 percent rate for most companies and 25 percent for manufacturers.
Baucus said his plan would provide a “permanent solution” to U.S. international tax rules that encourage companies to leave profits outside the country.
“Frankly, the failure to do reform is hurting the economy,” he said. “There’s no question of that.”
He was less specific about a rate target for individuals. Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has proposed a top rate of 25 percent, down from today’s 39.6 percent.
“Look, it’s hard, because there are a lot of provisions that people like a lot, whether it’s charitable deduction or mortgage or state and local, whatnot,” Baucus said. “But, still, I do believe that we can dramatically simplify the code.”
Baucus said his committee’s work on taxes will proceed on a parallel track with a bipartisan budget conference, which is scheduled to conclude by Dec. 13. The Finance panel could provide numbers to the budget group.
The White House could accept either a longer-term budget or a short-term deal spanning one or two years from the group, said Burwell. Any agreement, though, must include higher tax revenue.
“The conference can think about a 10-year deal that includes some of these big issues,” she said, “or can think about a smaller approach, and that approach would be more like one or two” years.
The two parties are at a stalemate over tax revenue. Republicans oppose revenue increases in exchange for reductions in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Democrats have said they won’t consider those changes without cutting tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations.
“We believe you have to think about it in a balanced way over time and include not just entitlements, but also revenue,” Burwell said.
Baucus, who has served in the Senate since 1978 and isn’t running for a seventh term next year, supports using tax-code changes to raise additional revenue, though less than other Democrats favor.
Earlier in the year, he had said he planned to have the committee consider a bill, what is known as holding a markup, “this fall.”
“I can’t give a date on markup,” he said today. “But we have to move quickly, because time is soon not becoming our friend.”
He also said he expects the Senate to confirm John Koskinen this year as the next commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.
The tax agency, under congressional scrutiny for its treatment of Tea Party-affiliated groups, has lacked a confirmed commissioner since November 2012. Obama nominated Koskinen, a former chairman of Freddie Mac, in August.
On the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Baucus said he has “spent a lot of time” pressing administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, on implementation.