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The HELP bill is unanimously supported by the panels Democrats, with all Republicans opposed. It was drafted with liberal reform goals in mind, including health care policies that many Democrats have sought for decades.
The longer Baucus takes, the trickier it gets, a senior Democratic Senate aide said.
And the issue doesnt just rest on Baucus shoulders. For Reid, up for re-election in 2010 and to whom Obama is looking for delivery of a top priority, the stakes are incredibly high.
Complicating matters, the Majority Leader must contend with powerful committee chairmen who are not a part of his leadership team, including Baucus and HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), the No. 2 Democrat on HELP, has been managing the markup of that committees bill in the absence of Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer. Dodd has said he confers with Kennedy regularly.
Reid also faces the challenge of reconciling two bills that have been developed with conflicting goals.
Particularly on whether to implement a government-run insurance option as a part of the overhaul, Reid must assuage a significant number of Democrats from conservative-leaning states who are either skeptical of or opposed to the proposal, while simultaneously keeping happy his liberals whose numbers are greater.
Most Democrats, including Reid allies like Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), are enthusiastic backers of the government-run insurance option. The HELP Committees bill includes a robust government-run option; Finance on Tuesday was still haggling over several policies, including an acceptable compromise to the public plan component.
The cost of reform and how to pay for it also remain contentious issues for Reid to navigate within his Conference. But at least one moderate Democrat whom Reid is likely to have to lean on at some point during the health care negotiations said the Majority Leader has the ability to bring a deal home.
It appears as though that effort began in earnest Tuesday.
Harry is the leader, and people certainly pay attention to Harrys advice and leadership, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. Im sure hes going to find a way to sell what needs to be done. ... Hes very good at that, and I hope hes able to do it.
Jessica Brady contributed to this report.