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Four Senate Centrists: Baucus Bill Has Potential

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) got a boost Thursday from three Democratic-leaning centrists and one Republican moderate who lauded his efforts to find bipartisan consensus on health care reform.

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) did not endorse all aspects of the bill Baucus unveiled Wednesday, but they said in a statement that his measure “has the potential to gain broad bipartisan support.”

The statement is yet another indication that Snowe’s vote may be attainable if the bill is altered to her liking either in the Finance Committee markup scheduled for next week or on the Senate floor.

The White House has actively courted Snowe, and she was one of three Republicans involved in Finance’s gang of six health care negotiations. The other two GOP Senators — ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) — have decided to band together with the rest of the Republicans on the Finance Committee to oppose the bill.

“Each of us has an obligation to put aside partisan views and to consider how health care reform addresses the needs and challenges faced by individual citizens and our economy as a whole,” the foursome said in their statement. “While we each have outstanding concerns we wish to see addressed, Senator Baucus has taken an important and critical step forward with this legislation. We will continue to work together in the full Senate on bipartisan health care reform that reduces costs, improves care, and expands access.”

All four Senators have been skeptical of Democrats’ efforts to create a public insurance option. Baucus’ bill would instead create a network of nonprofit health insurance cooperatives to compete with private insurers.

Nelson, Lieberman and McCaskill’s votes will all be critical given Democratic leaders are hoping to gather 60 votes for a final health care package. Following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) last month, the Senate Democratic majority is only 59-Members strong.

However, the Massachusetts Legislature was moving forward this week with passing a bill that would allow the governor to appoint a 60th Democrat to replace Kennedy. That appointment could happen before the health care bill is scheduled to hit the floor the week of Sept. 28.

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