Baucus Takes Center Stage As Health Reform Deal Maker
"As President Obama's effort to overhaul the health care system seems to hit one roadblock after another in Congress, he is counting on Senator Max Baucus [D-Mont.], a political shape-shifter and crafty deal maker who is not fully trusted by either party, to help him clinch his top domestic priority," the New York Times reports in a profile of the Senate Finance Committee leader. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has been unable to garner GOP support. Obama's preferred health leader, Tom Daschle, dropped out of the Obama team because of tax problems and highly partisan House Democrats have failed to work with Republicans, leaving the task of ushering a bill through the legislative process largely to Baucus.
Baucus is known for seeking bipartisan support for bills, a behavior that has earned him some distrust among his Democratic colleagues after he supported two major Bush administration proposals. However, he used the strategy last week to draw Republicans back into the debate even as they objected to a proposal by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
"Mr. Baucus takes great pride in working with Republicans, especially Mr. Grassley. Last week, as Republicans pummeled Mr. Dodd over the cost of his bill, Mr. Baucus huddled with some of those critics, including [Sen. Charles] Grassley, to develop a bill that Republicans could support. Mr. Baucus also delayed his first public drafting session until after the Fourth of July to work on lowering the bill's cost. Soft-spoken but tenacious, Mr. Baucus in recent weeks successfully strong-armed several lobbying groups into muting their criticism of his legislation, part of a concerted strategy of assuring interest groups that they had his ear as long as they did not chew on it" (Herszenhorn, 6/23).
Meanwhile, Sen. Dodd, who is leading the HELP Committee in the absence of ailing chairman Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said Tuesday his committee could still surge to the finish line this week on their own reform proposal, Politico reports. "Dodd vowed today that the overhaul effort was moving forward, and he reaffirmed his support for a government-run public option, the most controversial aspect of the overhaul" (Isenstadt, 6/23).
The government-run plan "has emerged as the crux of the unfolding debate over health-care reform on Capitol Hill, an ideological flash point that has become perhaps the greatest challenge for the Senate negotiators attempting to reach a compromise that could actually become law," the Washington Post reports. Liberal groups are blasting conservative Democrats who oppose the plan as Republicans pledged caucus-wide opposition (Murray, 6/24).
Weighing in on that debate, The Commonwealth Fund, a major health policy group, published its finding Wednesday that "A nationwide health insurance exchange that includes a Medicare-like government option could save $1.8 trillion more than if only private plans are offered, a prominent private U.S. health policy group said on Wednesday," Reuters reports, but adds: "Opponents say a cheaper, government plan will make it impossible for private plans to compete and may drive some out of business" (Heavey,6/24).
Meanwhile, "As Senate Democratic leaders voiced increasing skepticism about reaching a bipartisan health care compromise, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and a high-powered delegation of administration officials huddled with key Democratic senators on Capitol Hill Tuesday," Politico reports. The meeting was an opportunity for the Administration and Senators to "compare notes" on health reform, according to one participant. "Emanuel came to the Capitol at the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House health reform director Nancy-Ann DeParle. The 75-minute strategy meeting involved members of the Senate leadership and the two committees negotiating the bill, Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions." After the meeting, Chairman of the Finance Committee Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said "Rahm said he wants a bipartisan bill" (Brown, 6/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.