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Baucus, Kennedy Look to Dispel Talk of a Rift

Amid speculation that powerful Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.) and Edward Kennedy (Mass.) are headed for a showdown over health care reform, the two committee chairmen on Saturday released a joint statement pledging to work together to shepherd a bill to the Senate floor in July.“For both of us, reforming the nation’s health care system to cut cost, improve quality and provide affordable coverage remains the top priority on our two committees. We have worked together closely over many months and will continue to do so. We intend to ensure that our committees report similar and complementary legislation that can be quickly merged into one bill for consideration on the Senate floor before the August recess,— the statement said.Baucus, the Finance chairman, is considered the lead Democrat on health care reform and plans to mark up a bill in his committee in June. But Kennedy, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chairman, also carries considerable weight on the issue and is on track to mark up a separate bill next month in his committee.Baucus and Kennedy have always planned to meld their bills into one and then introduce it on the Senate floor. But questions have been raised recently over whether the two chairmen might be headed for a fight over what form the health care package might ultimately take.Baucus, at least until now, has appeared more inclined than Kennedy to write a bill that can garner significant Republican support.