Endgame on health

Senate Finance Committee leaders are working on the only bipartisan healthcare reform bill in town.

That concerns some liberal Democrats. It also disquiets conservative Republicans, whose main goal is to kill healthcare reform.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has given Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) a lot of leeway to craft a bipartisan bill. Some House Democrats believe Reid needs to cut Baucus off.

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Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Monday that Senate leaders may have to pull the plug on bipartisan negotiations.

“What concerns me about what’s happened in the Senate Finance Committee is that they’ve had a whole lot of time to work these things out, and just don’t seem to be able to break the impasse,” Van Hollen said in an interview on the liberal “Bill Press Radio Show.” “It doesn’t seem to be as much about a disagreement over policy issues, and it seems more to be just the lack of the political will on behalf of some to get it done.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a liberal member of the Congressional Black Caucus, expressed frustration on Tuesday with Blue Dogs Democrats. In an interview with MSNBC, she said she and many other Democrats will not support any bill that does not have a public option.

Baucus and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) must be enjoying the fact that House Democrats are struggling to pass a bill. If and when Baucus and Grassley reach a deal, they will be able to claim that their bill is employer-friendly, costs less than $1 trillion and is fully paid for without raising taxes on individuals.

Lobbying groups representing the health insurers and drug companies may endorse the Baucus/Grassley bill, knowing it is the best legislation they can get from the Democratic-controlled Congress.

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Regardless of what deal is struck between the Blue Dogs and House Democratic leaders, the bill that emerges from the House will be very different from the Senate Finance Committee’s measure.

There have been many instances where vastly different bills were ironed out in conference, but there also have been many times when the ends could not be made to meet, such as on immigration reform during the last administration.

The Senate and House are on very different tracks and at some point, President Barack Obama will need to pick which healthcare approach is better, or at least has the better chance of getting to his desk. Choosing won’t necessarily mean he gets what he wants, but if he doesn’t choose, he might get nothing.