With Baucus Bill No Longer a Mystery, Party Leaders Contemplate Strategy
Now that the long-awaited Baucus health overhaul is out, Democratic leaders are pondering how they will collect the votes and support necessary to move a bill through Congress.
The Hill: "Sen. Max Baucus spent months trying to win over Republicans on healthcare - to no avail. But his most challenging task is convincing members of his own party that he has their interests in mind. Liberal Democrats have been skeptical of Baucus (D-Mont.) for years, and questioned why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) let the centrist chairman of the Senate Finance Committee spend months negotiating behind the scenes with Republicans whom they suspected would never support the bill" (Bolton, 9/16).
Democrat leaders are pushing for procedural votes so the bill can be heard on the Senate floor, however: The Associated Press: "White House and Democratic officials are quietly talking with key senators, hoping to craft a thread-the-needle strategy on health care with little or no help from Republicans. The officials are asking a handful of moderate Democrats to do something that might be hard to explain to voters: Cast a Senate vote that could be interpreted as favoring a bill that the lawmakers ultimately plan to oppose on final passage. The first vote would help end an expected Republican-led filibuster, allowing a health care bill to reach the full Senate for a yes-or-no roll call vote. Democratic leaders portray the first vote as a procedural matter, in which party loyalty should prevail. The second vote would be a more meaningful matter of conscience and merit, they say" (Babington, 9/16).
They face an uphill battle, The New York Times reports: "In trying to reach critical mass for legislative success, advocates of health care overhaul face an extremely delicate balancing act. With the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Democrats control 59 seats, meaning they need at least one Republican to join them if they are to proceed without employing a procedural shortcut that could cause havoc in the Senate. And Senate Democrats have substantial differences of their own" (Hulse, 9/16).
For instance, liberals panned the idea, Roll Call reports: "Two New York Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee - Reps. Anthony Weiner and Eliot Engel - piled criticism on the Baucus plan, with Weiner saying it 'fails the most miserably' in cutting health care costs" (Newmyer, 9/16).
Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "swiped" at the bill, according to Politico. "'As this proposal evolves, we hope to see modifications that result in the Senate bill better reflecting the work of the House to make health care more affordable for all Americans and promote competition that is key to keeping costs lower,' Pelosi said in a statement. 'I believe the public option is the best way to achieve that goal'" (Thrush, 9/17).
KXNT of Las Vegas reports that Majoriy Leader Reid also is not satisfied with the bill. He "released a statement calling Baucus' bill 'a good starting point,' but said 'it needs improvement before it will work for Nevada'" (9/16).
Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, of South Carolina, is also stepping up in his leadership roll, Roll Call reports in a second story: "In addition to his role counting votes, Clyburn has been the point man running interference between Democratic leaders and fellow members of the CBC - identifying points of contention early and helping broker compromises to try to defuse them" (Dennis and Newmyer, 9/17).
NPR reports on the lack of GOP support: "Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi had been involved in the negotiations with Baucus as part of the 'Gang of Six' trying to reach a consensus, but he rejected the current version. 'The proposal released today still spends too much, and it does too little to cut health care costs for those with health insurance,' Enzi said in a statement" (Whitelaw, 9/16).
Sen. Olympia Snowe says she'll continue her work with Baucus, The Associated Press/The Boston Globe reports in a second story: "Snowe says she's pleased that Sen. Max Baucus of Montana moved away from a public option in his health care plan. She also says his bipartisan approach 'laid real and substantial groundwork for bipartisan cooperation during this ongoing process'" (9/16).
The Salt Lake Tribune: "Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch ripped the latest health reform proposal Wednesday, saying the bill released by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus 'simply leads to more government, more spending and more taxes'" (Canham, 9/16).
Politico also rounds up comment from many groups and lawmakers (9/17).