CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -Talk to U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller about health care reform and the West Virginia Democrat makes it clear he doesn't like the proposal put forth by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.
Rockefeller, who chairs a Senate Finance subcommittee on health, wasn't part of the so-called "Gang of Six," who put the bill together. The group of Senate Finance Committee members were evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, in a bid to win Republican support.
"We are now in the teeth of a storm," the 72-year-old Rockefeller told The Associated Press last week. "The Gang of Six has come out with a bill and there's a lot wrong with that bill."
Debate on the bill starts Tuesday, with hundreds of amendments proposed. Rockefeller says "many, many" of those proposed amendments will come from him.
The state's junior senator has already said he won't support the measure as it stands because it would tax coal miners' health care benefits and affect a health insurance program for children.
"You don't mess with kids," he said.
To pay for the 10-year, $856 billion bill, the Baucus proposal would tax insurance plans costing more than $21,000 for a family and $8,000 for an individual. The Montana Democrat has referred to such coverage as being "Cadillac plans" enjoyed by few Americans.
Rockefeller counters the tax would affect miners who receive good coverage to compensate them for the high risk work they do.
The Baucus plan isn't the only health care proposal in Congress. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is working on its own proposal. The House of Representatives has three different bills passed in committee that leaders in that chamber are working to combine in a single piece of legislation.
"It is the most complicated thing in the world in terms of public policy," Rockefeller said of the effort. "It makes everything else look easy."
Complicating the debate is that few in Congress understand the issue, he said. Rockefeller estimated that less than 10 percent of his colleagues fully grasp the topic. Rockefeller lamented the handling the issue has received at times in the press, saying many people are confused about health care reform and the competing proposals.
Rockefeller said fears of a "government takeover" of health care ignore that many Americans already get their care either directly or indirectly from federal and state agencies.
"If people don't like government health care, let's just abandon Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration and children's health insurance," Rockefeller said.
About half of West Virginia's 1.8 million residents get health care coverage from one of those programs or from the state's Public Employees Insurance Agency.
Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said he's not sold on the Baucus bill's plan to offer coverage through nonprofit co-ops, or the requirement that Americans buy health insurance without sufficiently large subsidies to make that affordable.
Still, "It is a place to start, but it clearly could benefit from some significant changes."
Rockefeller expects the debate on changes to the bill, known as "markup," to take several days. The committee has scheduled three days for markup, which usually lasts one day.
If the committee drafts a good bill, he'll support it, but he won't vote for "a bad bill that pretends to be a good bill."
For Sen. Wyden's amendments see Sen. Wyden Presses for Health Care Choice