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Finance Panel Gives Baucus’ Bill Rough Review

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Thursday began the tough task of selling his $856 billion health care reform package to a hostile audience on the committee. In a closed-door meeting of the full Finance Committee, Baucus on Thursday morning laid out the provisions of his comprehensive bill for the first time. Even though Baucus’ plan is the only Democratic health care reform bill introduced so far that doesn’t add to the federal deficit, it is finding few supporters on Capitol Hill. Republicans have panned it as a “government takeover— or “Baucus care,— while liberal Democrats have criticized the fact that it doesn’t include a public insurance option to compete with private insurers.“I think this bill needs more than a few tweaks,— Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said after the meeting.“Actually, I have more concerns,— Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said when asked if he felt any better about the legislation after listening to Baucus explain it.Finance Senators are particularly concerned about affordability. Both Republicans and Democrats worry that Baucus’ legislation does not do enough to bring down the cost of health care premiums. Additionally, they are concerned the bill would force individuals who cannot afford it to purchase insurance. The Senate Democratic Conference is scheduled to convene a special caucus Thursday afternoon to discuss health care strategy. The markup of Baucus’ bill is set to begin Tuesday; Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he’d like to bring a bill to the floor the week of Sept. 28.Also Thursday, Republican members of the Finance Committee are scheduled to huddle to strategize on next week’s markup and how to approach the amendment process.Baucus labored for months with a bipartisan group of six Senators on his committee to try to reach a deal on a consensus bill, to no avail. Both the Democrats and Republicans in that group have taken issue with various aspects of Baucus’ bill, although the GOP criticism has been more pointed.The Finance chairman acknowledged the problems many have with his bill. But he sought to downplay the bipartisan grumbling. He indicated that he expects minor changes will be made that will help attract broad support for the legislation, including from some Republicans.“Obviously there will be amendments, obviously there will be changes — as there should be,— Baucus said, adding that he wasn’t concerned that his Democratic colleagues would reject his bill because “Democrats, and I think some Republicans, want to vote for health care reform. There’s no doubt in my mind.—Outside moderate GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) — a member of the gang of six — Finance Republicans expressed little hope that the legislation that ultimately emerges from the committee will be something they could support.But Democrats were more tempered in discussing their problems with Baucus’ package. Although some key Finance Democrats have publicly voiced their concerns with the bill, others said they expected the amendment process would put the legislation on acceptable footing.“I’m encouraged,— Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said. “I think people ought to feel positive about what’s happening here.—

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