Rockefeller won't vote for Baucus health bill

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), the second-ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, will not vote in favor of the healthcare reform bill his panel's chairman will introduce Wednesday, he told reporters Tuesday.

"There is no way in its present form that I will vote for it," Rockefeller said during a conference call co-hosted by the liberal Campaign for America's Future.

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Rockefeller's rejection of Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) proposal, outlined more than week ago, is not a surprise. The West Virginia Democrat, who is the chairman of the panel's Health Care Subcommittee, has not been included in the bipartisan negotiations that produced the framework for Baucus's proposal. Throughout the process, Rockefeller has been highly critical of Baucus for offering too many concessions to Republicans in hopes of winning bipartisan support for the bill.

The primary subject of the conference call was the so-called public option proposal, which would entail creating a government-run insurance program that would compete with private companies. As a proposed compromise, Baucus has adopted a plan from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to create member-owned, not-for-profit healthcare cooperatives as an alternative to traditional health insurance.

But Rockefeller reiterated his previously stated concerns that Baucus's bill does too little to ensure that health insurance would be more affordable for middle-class families and that the measure does not adequately strengthen Medicaid and would transition too many kids from the Children's Health Insurance Program to private insurance.

"I have sat beside Max Baucus for 22 years on the Finance Committee. I'm probably his best friend among Democrats on the Finance Committee, but I cannot agree to this bill," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller commented he will not vote for the Baucus bill during the committee markup that will begin next Tuesday unless the measure is changed in "vast amounts," he said.

Rockefeller may well get his wish. Baucus expects Finance Committee members to offer numerous amendments during the markup. After meeting with Baucus on Tuesday evening, several committee Democrats identified misgivings similar to Rockefeller's and made clear they expect the bill to undergo significant changes during the markup.

Rockefeller said he'll sponsor an amendment in committee to add a public option to the bill, and will have other amendments as well.

"I'm not going to worry about, 'Is it coming out of the committee or is not coming out of the committee?' " Rockefeller said. "I'm going to vote the way I feel."