House Dem factions entrench further with centrist-friendly Baucus bill

House Democrats on Wednesday greeted the long-awaited Senate Finance healthcare reform bill with praise, acceptance, hesitation and a slamming door.

Liberals said the legislation crafted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) would not pass the House, while centrists praised it for not adding to the budget deficit.

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House leaders, not wanting to slam legislation that President Barack Obama has hinted he’d like to see move forward, landed somewhere in the middle.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reaffirmed her commitment to a public health insurance option, something not included in the Baucus bill, but also indicated a willingness to move closer toward the center.

“We are pleased that Sen. Baucus’s plan mirrors some key provisions in the House proposal, including sweeping insurance reforms and consumer protections,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The House bill clearly does more to make coverage affordable for more Americans and provides more competition to drive insurance companies to charge lower premiums and improve coverage.

“As this proposal evolves, we hope to see modifications that result in the Senate bill better reflecting the work of the House to make healthcare more affordable for all Americans and promote competition that is key to keeping costs lower,” continued Pelosi.

“I believe the public option is the best way to achieve that goal,” concluded Pelosi, who just last week backed down from her long-held insistence that a healthcare bill include a public insurance option.

Overall, the introduction of the long-awaited legislation did not seem to bring House Democrats any closer to combining legislation approved by three committees into one bill. There continues to be chatter among Democrats that their new game plan is to wait for the Senate to act first so they can follow that charted path.

But if the Baucus bill is what blazes the trail, Democratic leaders will continue to have a problem with a large bloc of liberals who, while they may no longer need to see the words “public option” in print, see the Baucus bill as an affront to their core principles and an abandonment of the president’s goals.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), a leading voice for a public option, said the Baucus bill failed to satisfy Obama's objectives.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Weiner said. “Any healthcare proposal that does not have the competition and cost containment that can only be achieved via public option will be dead on arrival.”

“I don’t see it as the product that the president necessarily wants,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said of the Senate Finance bill. “I think all indications are that [the president wants] a public option or something like it [that] performs the function of accountability, competition, cost containment. And I don’t see that in this product.

“The conflict is: Does the House accommodate this demand for a public option or not?” Grijalva said. “And that’s basically where we’re at.”

But a leader of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition praised Baucus for proposing the creation of state-based health insurance exchanges through which individuals and small-business employees could purchase coverage.

“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,” said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a leader of the 52-member group.

“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 a statement.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who helped broker a deal between the Blue Dogs and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that saved the House plan from outright scuttle, offered an obtuse statement about the Senate Finance bill.

“I share the president's commitment to providing all Americans with access to quality and affordable health insurance, and look forward to continuing the work in our chamber to produce a bill that achieves that goal in addition to bending the long-term cost curve and being fully offset,” Hoyer said in a statement. “This is a positive development in moving us closer to passing a healthcare reform bill this year.”