Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 15, 2009

ROCKEFELLER THROWS A BRUSH-BACK PITCH AT BAUCUS.... Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) seemed to think he could thread the needle. He'd offer a right-leaning reform package that could pick up some Republican support, and keep Democrats more or less satisfied. His plan isn't working.

This afternoon, shortly after Baucus said there's a "very good chance" he'd get bipartisan support for his proposal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Baucus' plan still isn't conservative enough to get GOP votes.

And what about progressive, pro-reform Democrats? The ones Baucus refused to include in the bipartisan negotiations? Baucus may have hoped his Democratic colleagues would simply go along, figuring his plan is better than nothing. Today, however, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), a strong supporter of a bold, ambitious reform package, was unambiguous.

"There is no way in present form I will vote for [Baucus' proposal]," Rockefeller said. "Therefore, I will not vote for it unless it changes during the amendment process by vast amounts."

Jonathan Cohn puts this in the larger context.

A little over a month ago, right before the August recess, I spoke with Rockefeller at some length. And he was clearly wrestling with how to position himself.

No living senator has done as much to promote health reform as he has. It's the cause of his life and, for the first time, the goal is within reach. He admitted that voting against a package, even a flawed one, was difficult to imagine.

But Rockefeller also made clear his frustration with the compromises Baucus was making, whether it was replacing the public plan with a co-op or gradually reducing the subsidies to help people pay for insurance. He was particularly incensed about the changes to Medicaid and CHIP, programs on which he's worked closely over the years.

It seemed like he was still on board, if only to help get a bill out of the Finance Committee and onto the Senate floor. But you got the feeling -- well, I got the feeling -- that was near the breaking point. Clearly, he's now hit it.

The next step is some pretty intense wrangling. There'd be less, if only Baucus had bothered to talk about the proposal, even a little, with the Democrats on his own committee.

The Dems enjoy a 13-10 edge on the Finance Committee, suggesting Baucus doesn't have a lot of leeway -- if even a few Dems break ranks and reject his flawed proposal, Baucus would need some Republican votes to make up the difference, and as McConnell explained, that's not likely to happen.

A few things to keep an eye on: how many (and what kind of) changes Baucus is willing to make to keep Dems on board; whether the leadership tells Rockefeller to pass Baucus' plan now and they'll fix it when it's being reconciled with the HELP bill; whether Rockefeller gets Democratic allies to force Baucus' hand (and how many); whether Snowe gets on board with Baucus' plan; and whether Harry Reid considers just circumventing the Finance Committee altogether, moving the HELP bill to the floor with a bunch of amendments.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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Has any politician done more harm to his image in such a short amount of time that didn't involve some type of scandal? I mean, based purely on his political acumen, he's gone from hero to bozo to coward in less than a year.

Posted by: Matt on September 15, 2009 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

McConnell isn't on board so why bother trying to get these clowns to negotiate. I suspect Baucus is trying to establish a point to start negotiations, like we are to bend and bend until something closely resembling his bill is spit out. This non-sense is getting old and everyone position swapping is getting old. Let's get a liberal bill out there and see who is going to walk the walk.

Posted by: ScottW on September 15, 2009 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

The Progressive Dems in the Senate need to make it clear to Reid and Bacus that will not not support a center-right bill. And Reid and Becus need to get their heads out of the a***s and realize that NO republicans are going to vote for Healthcare reform. Stop this idiotic pretense of bipartinship and pass a decent bill.

Posted by: thorin-1 on September 15, 2009 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I get the very strong feeling that everything about these bills is all very (silently) choreographed for maximum benefit to individual senators. Not that they aren't participating in earnest, but that the outcome is known and they are just playing their part in the spectacle. Kind of like the WWE, except instead of "Triple H" you have "The Public Option."

Posted by: Christopher on September 15, 2009 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Matt nails it. Baucus has made a complete fool of himself over the last year and the sensible thing to do with his plan is to toss it into the recycling bin. The best it could serve for is as a bad example.


Posted by: Midland on September 15, 2009 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

You could make some news by finding out what can be changed once the bills get out of committee. We already know that the senate has two bills. Obviously they must be merged together before a vote. Then the House must vote and the two bills fixed in committee. How possible is change at these later stages, once everyone has essentially voted for insurance reform?

Maybe Obama is focusing on that phase of the battle.

Posted by: tomj on September 15, 2009 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

I think Baucus needs his own TV show on "Fix" News. He has been ignoring Progressive Democrats and trying to SELL his faulty "Reform" Bill.
I will never forget he said, He really supports the Public Option.
He supports the Public Option like I supported G.W.Bush policies for 8 years.
The sooner his BILL gets tossed into the garbage can, the better we will all be.
When his SHOW is over, I'm sure he and Senator Conrad will appear on "Fix" News to help US pass "Bipartisan" Reform !

Posted by: ParityFanatic on September 15, 2009 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Matt,

When was Max Baucus ever a hero? He's always seemed like a store-bought stooge for the insurance companies.

Posted by: bdop4 on September 15, 2009 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Why the hell is Baucus apparently running the show for Dems on this, when Rockefeller so manifestly has much more of a clue?

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on September 15, 2009 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

Baucus should now take the entire printed version of his proposal and take it to a desk in a corner and start cutting out paper dolls and doilies and mountainy shapes that remind him of home and whatever else strikes his fancy. And that's the last he should have to do with anything concerning health care.

It's bizarre that this fully compromised clown has been able to exercise the stranglehold over the health care conversation that Baucus has. It fits in well with the FUBAR narrative that describes America's ability to drag it's ass out of the swamp of stupid these days. But it's still painful to watch one conniving dope hog so much of the FUBAR for himself while his buddies just stand around and shrug their shoulders.

Max Baucus, the wrong man in the wrong place at the worst time.

Posted by: burro on September 15, 2009 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

Simply use the bill from the Finance committee as an example of Republican intransigence. Show what has been tossed and how it (adversely) affects HCR. And continue to hammer at McConnell's statements about refusing to vote for the gutted version of HCR. If HCR has been gutted and still the Republicans won't vote for it, what does that say to the voters about the Republicans?

Posted by: Doug on September 15, 2009 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

What I'd like to see is Rockefeller offer an amendment to replace the Baucus bill entirely with the HELP version. I'm not sure offhand who else is on the Finance Committee; is there any chance that the twelve Dems other than Baucus would support that?

Posted by: Redshift on September 15, 2009 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans need to be made to understand that if they don't want a much better (that is, worse for them) bill to come out, that they need to support the dreck that $enator Baucu$ is coming out with. If he thinks this is a sensible moderate bill, he needs to find the votes for it and progressives should feel absolutely no duty to sell out the American people to give away more money to health insurers.

Posted by: freelunch on September 15, 2009 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

Redshift, @ 22:00

Here are the Dems on the Finance Com, courtesy of Wikipedia. In addition to Rockefeller, Schumer, Kerry, and maybe Wyden ought to be on our side. The rest, not so much, I don't think.

* Max Baucus, Montana, Chairman
* Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia
* Kent Conrad, North Dakota
* Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico
* John Kerry, Massachusetts
* Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas
* Ron Wyden, Oregon
* Charles Schumer, New York
* Debbie Stabenow, Michigan
* Maria Cantwell, Washington
* Bill Nelson, Florida
* Robert Menendez, New Jersey
* Thomas Carper, Delaware

Posted by: exlibra on September 15, 2009 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe "Jello" Jay Rockefeller is trying to make amends for his atrocious handling of the Warrantless Wiretapping Act. Trying to salvage whatever is left of his tattered legacy.

Posted by: Patrick Starr on September 16, 2009 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

Even when the Baucus legislation reaches the full commiitee, there will only be more delay, acrimony, and GOP talking points. At this point no product will pass. Reid should gather as many of these Dems as he can before a microphone and announce he is moving the HELP bill to the floor.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on September 16, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK
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