Blue Dogs praise Baucus bill

The leaders of a vital bloc of House Democrats threw their weight behind the healthcare bill crafted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), adding momentum to the public option-free approach to health reform and likely setting up another showdown with House liberals.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a co-chairwoman of the 52-member Blue Dog Coalition, on Wednesday gave her blessing to the Baucus bill, which is rising above the pack as the most likely bill to become law.

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“The draft released by Chairman Baucus addresses two central goals of the Blue Dog Coalition and the administration: It is deficit-neutral, and it takes real steps to bring down the cost of healthcare over the long term,” Herseth Sandlin said.

Herseth Sadlin called the release of the Baucus bill "an important step forward as Congress moves to send responsible healthcare reform legislation to the president’s desk."

Blue Dogs have felt emboldened to rally around the Senate Finance bill as opposed to any of the three House healthcare bills since President Obama’s speech to Congress last Wednesday. Obama indicated he would be open to means other than the public option, favored by liberals, to achieve the end of more competition and lower healthcare costs, and he took the additional step of using a cost estimate that matches Baucus’s bill.

The Blue Dogs echoed Obama’s remarks in praising the Baucus bill.

“Meeting these standards, also set forth by the president, is critical to reining in deficits and protecting our economy for future generations of Americans,” Herseth Sandlin said.

In July, the Blue Dogs showed just how much their votes matter. Seven Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee prevented the panel from finishing its markup of the House healthcare bill until just before the August recess, effectively torpedoing the hopes House leaders had of passing a healthcare bill out of the chamber by the end of July.