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Kennedy, Baucus Face-Off Looms

One lobbyist with health care interests predicted that Kennedy’s bill would be more attractive to the Senate’s liberals than Baucus’ legislation. A second downtown observer with knowledge of the work both Finance and HELP have done on health care elaborated, explaining that Kennedy’s panel appears to be writing legislation that is “much more expansive and costly” than the bill under development by Baucus.

Although Baucus favors including a public plan — a government-run insurance option — that is anathema to nearly all Republicans, Kennedy is said to support a proposal that would operate similar to Medicare, which would clearly have even less of a chance of garnering GOP votes. Kennedy also is likely to push for a more politically tricky blend of government mandates and tax hikes to finance health care than Baucus is.

“The Kennedy bill is expected to be to the left of Baucus, so there will be some issues to resolve,” the lobbyist said. “But many people believe that Kennedy and Baucus are the ultimate deal makers and will work it out. The question will be how to get Republican votes.”

After months of working groups and committee hearings where only the broad goal of reforming health care was publicly discussed and generally agreed upon, Baucus and Kennedy last month began delving into the thorny territory of exactly what form an overhaul of the industry should take. Both chairmen have plans to mark up a bill this month and then merge them together for consideration as one.

But the Supreme Court confirmation process for 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor could put a crimp in the Democrats’ goal of bringing health care legislation to the floor with enough time to be considered before the Senate leaves town for a month in early August, as could the negotiating time required to meld the Baucus and Kennedy bills.

Among the parliamentary options available for threading the two bills together is the leadership bill route, in which Reid would introduce legislation on the floor, and then add components from the Baucus and Kennedy legislation as amendments. The most philosophically contentious issues — even among Democrats — continue to be whether to include a public-plan option in the final bill and how to pay for reform.

“Work to craft one bill from the two bills will begin in earnest after both bills are marked up in committee,” a Finance Committee aide said.

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