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Ganging up on Baucus: Senator's plan garners bipartisan grumbles

Ganging up on Baucus: Senator's plan garners bipartisan grumbles

Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusGreen Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana Business groups worried about Trump's China tariffs plan Farmers hit Trump on trade in new ad MORE (D-Mont.) finally introduced his much-anticipated healthcare reform bill Wednesday — and was rewarded with a chorus of disapproval from both the left and the right.

The Finance Committee chairman has huddled for months with a bipartisan Gang of Six senators in hope of devising a compromise.

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But it hasn’t worked, at least not yet. The right hates it, the left thinks it’s weak and the center may not be as broad as Baucus hoped.

As he unveiled the bill, Baucus stood by himself, a lonely, but upbeat figure on a podium in his committee’s stately hearing room. The gang’s three Republicans made clear they were not on his side.

Baucus’s bill and his exclusion of all but two other Democrats from negotiations met with ambivalence to downright rejection from most Democrats, especially liberals.

There are no Republican supporters but, additionally, there is resistance from Democrats, including key senators on Baucus’s panel. It is clear that the bill will get out of committee only if there are significant changes made to it.

But every move to the left further alienates Republicans and makes it more likely that Democrats will invoke controversial budget-reconciliation procedures to pass the bill by a simple majority.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination The Memo: Teens rankle the right with gun activism Dems to party: Go on offense with Trump’s alleged affairs MORE (D-Nev.) praised Baucus for his work but made it plain that the draft bill needs work.

“There will be a healthy and vigorous debate in the Finance Committee as senators work to strengthen this proposal,” Reid said.

Finance Committee Democrats plan to raise amendments on a plethora of issues, a development Baucus said he anticipates and welcomes.

Their chief complaint is that Baucus did not include a proposal to create a government-run public option health insurance program to compete with private companies. Democrats also want to boost the assistance middle-class families would get to buy health insurance.

Increased funding for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program is also on the agenda.

Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), one of Baucus’s Democratic partners during the negotiations, is among only a few Democrats to express strong support for the bill. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), the other Democrat in the Gang of Six, is a strong bet to back the bill but still wants to see its assistance for the middle class beefed up.

Centrist Democrats in the House may have given Baucus’s measure its warmest welcome.

“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,” Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a leader of the 52-member Blue Dog Coalition, said in a statement.

Liberals in the House panned the bill. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reiterated her support for a public option in the final legislation.

Baucus continued to maintain that his strategy would bear out.

“At the end of the day, we will get bipartisan support and we’re going to pass it,” Baucus said.
“This is a good bill. This is a balanced bill. It can pass the Senate,” Baucus added.

The measure, if it clears the Finance Committee, would still need to be melded with the more liberal measure that has passed the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee along party lines.

The decisions by Finance Committee ranking member Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: McConnell doesn't control my committee Senate panel punts Mueller protection bill to next week GOP senator: Congress needs ‘to move on’ from Russia probe MORE (R-Iowa) and GOP Sens. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSupreme Court weighs future of online sales taxes The Hill's Morning Report: Hannity drawn into Cohen legal fight Budget chairman floats plan to eliminate his own committee MORE (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) to withhold their support seriously damages the prospects of a bipartisan vote in committee or on the Senate floor.

In the meantime, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd FreedomWorks backs Jim Jordan for House Speaker MORE (R-Ky.) and other Senate Republicans soundly rejected Baucus’s would-be compromise as just another liberal healthcare bill.

Even if no Republican signs on to the bill, the great lengths to which Baucus went to win them over could give Democrats some political cover if they decide to press ahead with reconciliation.

The White House indicated that the Gang of Six’s work has been beneficial.

“I don’t think that Sen. Baucus or President Obama or others asking Republicans to be involved, to give us their ideas, is time poorly spent at all. I think the American people want to hear both sides’ ideas on this,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

But negativity from committee Democrats is more threatening to Baucus’s ability to get his bill through a committee on which his party has a three-vote advantage.

So far, only Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Overnight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term MORE (D-W.Va.) is on record opposing the bill as introduced.

Recognizing the conflict that could result from a battle between Rockefeller and Baucus during the committee’s proceedings, President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJudge rules against Trump administration in teen pregnancy prevention case Parkland student rips Obama for essay on shooting survivors Obama pens Time 100 entry for Parkland survivors MORE invited the West Virginian for a sit-down at the White House on Wednesday.

But beyond Rockefeller, other Finance Committee Democrats have expressed misgivings about Baucus’s proposal, setting up the troubling prospect that Baucus’s attempt to expand the political center merely resulted in alienating the political left.

Obama also met Wednesday with Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Cybersecurity: Senators want info on 'stingray' surveillance in DC | Bills to secure energy infrastructure advance | GOP lawmaker offers cyber deterrence bill Overnight Tech: Alleged robocall kingpin testifies before Congress | What lawmakers learned | Push for new robocall rules | Facebook changes privacy settings ahead of new data law | Time Warner CEO defends AT&T merger at trial Dems give muted praise to Pompeo-Kim meeting MORE (D-Ore.), and Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who have introduced their own healthcare bill.

Rockefeller and other key senators, such as Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds Congress should build on the momentum from spending bill Corker won’t campaign against Democrat running for Tennessee Senate seat MORE (D-N.Y.), are strong proponents of creating a government-run public option to compete with private insurance companies. Several committee Democrats, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), have said that

Baucus’s bill does not provide adequate assistance to help middle-class families afford insurance.

Even Reid quibbled that the bill would increase Nevada’s Medicaid costs.

Jared Allen, Michael O’Brien and Sam Youngman contributed to this article