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New Test for Old Alliance

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
The relationship between Finance Chairman Max Baucus (center) and ranking member Chuck Grassley is viewed by many as the linchpin to any possible bipartisan health care deal.

“Even if they don’t end up in agreement on [health care], they’ll still be as strong as ever,” said one former Senate staffer. “They get as far as they can and each one understands that each gave it a strong, honest effort.”

One senior Senate Democratic aide said the Senators seem “to like it when their party leadership pushes on them. ... It’s their common streak of obstinacy.”

Also a common thread is that neither Senator toes the party line, and neither apologies for it.

Democrats have long been suspicious of Baucus and his relationship with Grassley, largely because some Democrats perceive Baucus as compromising party principles for the sake of having a bipartisan bill. Grassley has suffered some of the same mistrust among Republicans, who often fear his loyalties lie more with Baucus than with them.

The duo has met once a week for nearly eight years and can count a litany of successes — many of which have inspired ire from their colleagues — including the creation of a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, the 2004 pension bill, “fast track” trade authority, and even a bill creating incentives for adoption.

Grassley said the pressure from leadership and within the GOP and Democratic conferences is always part of the process for them.

“We don’t ignore it. We listen to it and consider it,” he said. “I owe it to my Republican colleagues.”

Members of the bipartisan group of six said the Baucus-Grassley relationship has been the key to the progress they all feel they’re making on forging what could end up being the only bipartisan health care bill to emerge from any Congressional committee this year.

“Chairman Baucus and ranking member Grassley’s relationship is obviously the linchpin ... and certainly is the impetus for making this group possible,” Snowe said. “They established a benchmark by virtue of that long-standing cooperative bipartisan relationship, which has resulted, as I said, in signature and landmark initiatives that have become law. ... No one questions, you know, anybody’s, you know, commitment or motivation. ... That’s abundantly clear. That makes it much easier.”

Snowe added, “The chairman could have thrown down a mark and just said, ‘This is it. Let’s start marking up.’ But he chose not to do that. He’s gone through a much more arduous process.”

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