Sept. 21, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Baucus Tested as a Salesman

Health Bill Faces Uphill Climb

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Finance Chairman Max Baucus (center) still has a lot of selling to do to convince panel Democrats to support his $900 billion health care reform bill.

Key Finance Committee Democrats said Tuesday that their chairman’s $900 billion health care reform bill is unlikely to clear the panel without major surgery.

The Democrats are unhappy with several aspects of Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) proposal, particularly that it calls for nonprofit health insurance cooperatives rather than a public insurance option. And many made clear that they are unlikely to support the bill — the markup of which began Tuesday — if Baucus doesn’t make even more changes to it.

“I know that we all definitely are committed to moving forward and getting a bill,” said Finance member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “But I know that there are those of us that feel that some changes need to happen in committee.”

Since Baucus issued his original $856 billion health care proposal last week, Finance Democrats have held extensive discussions to plot their markup strategy. And while some progress was made, committee member and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) acknowledged Tuesday that no agreement was reached over whether to strip the co-ops in favor of a public insurance option.

In fact, several Democrats, while lauding Baucus’ effort and portions of his bill, used their opening statements at Tuesday’s markup session to criticize the co-op proposal in favor of the public insurance option. Among those Senators were Schumer, Finance Subcommittee on Health Care Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) and Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), who spent several months working with a bipartisan gang of six Finance members negotiating a health care deal.

“I have thought that a more straightforward public option ... would be an even better way to go,” Bingaman said in his opening statement. “I hope that we can make that improvement as we go forward.”

Heading into Tuesday’s session, Democrats and Republicans on the Hill believed the co-ops would survive the Finance Committee; most believed that any attempt to strip them in favor of the public insurance option would come either in the forthcoming merger with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s bill or on the floor.

But even Finance member and Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who originally came up with the idea of co-ops to attract bipartisan support for health care legislation, declined to predict that the provision would be part of the committee’s final bill.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Conrad said when asked if the final Finance bill would include co-ops.

Committee Democrats were also fighting to change Baucus’ bill on another front: affordability. Finance Republicans were almost unanimous in their opposition to the measure, although they too applauded Baucus for trying to craft a bipartisan bill.

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