Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Baucus’ Credibility Rests on Reform

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus has a lot riding on whether he can win support for his $900 billion health care plan.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has set himself up to reap the maximum in political gain, or pain, in the health care debate.

With momentum building for health care reform and the process in the Finance Committee beginning to take on an air of inevitability, a Baucus victory will likely overshadow many of the missteps that some Democrats feel he made in pursuing a bipartisan bill that has yet to materialize. However, a failure would likely result in many of his Senate colleagues calling for his head.

“He’s either the hero or the goat,” said one Democratic source familiar with the process. “He set himself up in some ways to be the end-all-be-all of health care, and when you do that, you get the good and the bad.”

But the source noted, “If he pulls this off, there will be a lot of people slapping him on the back.”

Virtually no one believes Baucus will fail to push a reform bill out of his committee, despite heartburn among some liberals over the Montana Democrat’s more centrist approach. And at the end of the day, Democrats said the health care package that Baucus crafted is likely to make up 60 percent to 70 percent of the bill that makes it to the Senate floor.

That fact alone is likely to be what is remembered after the dust settles.

“Baucus has demonstrated strong leadership. He has been immersed in health care reform for the last two years and has held all sorts of hearings, meetings, roundtables and other events on the subject,” another Democratic source said. “He has more than given the Republicans a fair shake throughout this process. ... The history of this process won’t be written this week by the talking heads inside the Beltway — it’ll be made when the president signs a health care reform bill that reflects so much of what Max Baucus is getting done right now.”

Still, Finance Democrats at times have grown frustrated with Baucus’ deliberate style and dogged pursuit of a bipartisan health care bill. Baucus worked for months to try to fashion a bill that could win GOP support. But in the end, after numerous pushed deadlines, the Finance chairman pressed ahead with the best product that he believed could come up with — and in so doing, he didn’t make many Senators happy.

And yet there remains an admiration of the commitment that Baucus has made to the reform effort over the past year and a half, and a recognition that any bill that clears the Senate floor is likely to have his imprint.

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