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.

“I think he’s been essential to getting us where we are,” added Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who spent months at Baucus’ side as a participant in the bipartisan gang of six health care negotiations. “If we’re able to get this markup completed and get a bill to the floor, he’ll deserve substantial credit.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is seeking to rewrite parts of the bill that she believes will harm lower- and middle-class Americans, was more measured.

“He deserves tremendous accolades for perseverance and patience, and I’ve never seen anybody more focused in trying to find the right strategy to get things done,” she said. “I think all of us are held accountable for what we do. that’s why we’re working so hard on it. I think he has done everything humanly possible to get this done and he will continue to.”

The road to the finish line — if Baucus can manage to cross it — is fraught with obstacles, some of which have already tripped him up.

Even now that the markup on his health care proposal has finally begun, Baucus faces a practical and political minefield as he balances trying to mitigate the backlash from Democratic liberals while shoring up support from centrists.

Baucus’ supporters point out that the chairman is trying to preserve his bill in committee, not just to get GOP votes but also to firm up votes among Democratic moderates. While liberals are upset about the measure’s lack of a public insurance option, centrists, who have been deeply skeptical or downright opposed to creating the public insurance option for which the president and Congressional leaders have called, have warmed to Baucus’ proposal to create a network of nonprofit health insurance cooperatives.

A third way, proposed by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), that creates a public option as a fallback if private insurers cannot reduce costs and increase coverage has also gained currency with Senate centrists.

The Finance chairman has also been trying to run a markup that gives Republicans an opportunity to make their case, without allowing them to draw out the process unnecessarily.

“Whether or not he’s being unduly pressured by his leadership, he’s got to fairly run his committee. You could see his impatience coming to the surface today in a couple of situations,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said. “It’s not easy, but a good chairman will control his own emotions and give everyone the opportunity that they are entitled to.”

In addition to giving committee Republicans a chance to vent, Baucus is also trying to secure Snowe’s vote, considering she is the only GOP Senator likely to support the measure. With Snowe’s backing, Baucus would be able claim bipartisanship and perhaps firm up the votes of wavering Democratic centrists.

“If he reports a bill out with bipartisan support, it’ll be a clear indication that the package he’s put together has the best chance of success in getting 60 votes or more on the Senate floor,” said another senior Senate Democratic aide, referencing the number of votes needed to beat back a filibuster.

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