Senate Panel to Take Aim at Health Reform

The Senate Finance Committee will convene its first hearing of 2009 on comprehensive health reform next Wednesday, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced Friday.

The hearing will be part of a kind of soft launch of the Democratic health reform agenda next week.

On Monday, President Obama will host a summit on fiscal issues at the White House. Tuesday night, Obama is expected to feature health care in an address to a joint session of Congress. Finally, on Thursday, the White House will issue a skeleton version of Obama's first budget request, which Capitol Hill Democrats hope includes at least some hints of how the president wants to tackle health care this year.

The Finance Committee hearing will focus on budgetary questions about health reform; Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf will testify.

Baucus and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) have been working on dual tracks for months to prepare a legislative vehicle for health reform, something the senators and their House committee counterparts dropped out last month amid controversy over unpaid taxes.

But Obama and his allies in the Senate are looking to reassert themselves on healthcare. Baucus is beginning his public hearings on reform Wednesday and Kennedy has been making some progress building interest-group support for his plan, according to a report in Friday's New York Times.

Plus, some people think Obama will announce his new nominee for the HHS gig next week. The Times says it's going to be Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), who happens to be in town this weekend for a National Governors Association meeting.

- Jeffrey Young