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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 Baucus2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer Steady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate 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 ReidTo end sugar subsidies, conservatives can't launch a frontal attack House presses Senate GOP on filibuster reform A pro-science approach to Yucca Mountain appropriations 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 GrassleyOvernight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Grassley to Sessions: Policy for employees does not comply with the law MORE (R-Iowa) and GOP Sens. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA GOP is addressing tax cuts and a pension bill that could help coal miners Overnight Finance: Congress sends Trump funding bill to avert shutdown | WH sees 'tentative' deal on defense spending | GOP discovers corporate tax snag | Consumer bureau fight heats up | Apple could see B windfall from tax bill 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 McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 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 RockefellerOvernight 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 Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers 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 ObamaGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Forget the Nunes memo — where's the transparency with Trump’s personal finances? Mark Levin: Clinton colluded with Russia, 'paid for a warrant' to surveil Carter Page 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 WydenWATCH: Dems say Trump will look like he has something to hide if he avoids Muller interview House funding bill includes bipartisan Medicare reforms Trump approves Indiana Medicaid work requirements 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 SchumerGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Trump called for unity — he didn’t even last a week Overnight Defense: GOP plays hardball by attaching defense funding to CR | US reportedly drawing down in Iraq | Russia, US meet arms treaty deadline | Why the military wants 6B from Congress 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