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Finance Democrats Rip Baucus Over Handling of Talks

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee gave Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) an earful this morning about his handling of bipartisan talks to craft a health care reform bill.

Subcommittee on Health Care Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Baucus heard passionate complaints from nearly every Democrat on the committee about the lack of information-sharing on the talks and the policy prescriptions the bipartisan group of six Senators appear to be exploring.

“I think the chairman was a little surprised by the strength and intensity of feeling, and that was helpful,— Rockefeller said.

As the subcommittee chairman who would otherwise be writing the bill and a veteran of Senate health care talks, Rockefeller said he was upset that he had not been invited into the “real— negotiations with Baucus, ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).

“I want a good health care bill, but I also want to be part of the discussions,— Rockefeller said. He added, “They can’t strike a deal without us. … We don’t want to be cast around like marbles.—

But Rockefeller said he is not yet convinced that Baucus will actually keep Democrats looped in on the talks as they continue, saying the chairman has promised to do so before with no result.

Still, Baucus told reporters after the meeting that any deal reached by the committee’s six negotiators must win approval from a majority of the panel prior to legislation being marked up.

One Senate Democratic aide said the contentious meeting resulted partly from the lack of meetings this week among committee Democrats.

“There’s been increasing anxiety among Members about where all this is going and how we get a bill,— the aide said.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.

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