The Senate Finance Committee will reconvene on Tuesday to continue its deliberations over the health-care bill proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), the committee’s chairman. Don’t expect a C-SPAN thriller. The committee has more than 500 amendments to consider, and most of its 23 members are in no rush to wrap up the debate. As the Christian Science Monitor reported on Friday:
With a 13 to 10 edge on the panel, Democrats are rolling over most Republican amendments. Of the 61 amendments taken up this week, the panel accepted only four proposed by Republicans. Another 17 GOP amendments were defeated on near party-line votes, and 11 — including four signature GOP proposals to cap jury awards in medical malpractice cases — were dismissed on procedural grounds.
“The Baucus bill is not as bad as what came out of HELP (the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee), but we have got to make sure that it doesn’t get worse,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, tells NRO. “We have tried to make some conservative changes, but we have not been successful.”
With the Baucus bill stumbling, and the HELP bill a non-starter, Grassley tells us that another approach to health-care reform in the Senate may be necessary. “If we are going to slow down the freight train toward a nationalization of health care, then those in the opposition will need to coalesce,” says Grassley. One way of doing that, he says, would be to form a new coalition outside of the Finance and HELP committees that could craft a truly bipartisan bill.
“At this point, I’ve only suggested the idea and would not take credit for leading anything,” says Grassley. Still, he says, the Baucus bill is “mostly partisan,” and many Republican and Democrats are “open to ideas outside of Finance and HELP.”
“I’ve spoken with Republicans and four or five Democrats,” says Grassley. “We could get more people on board if we had a new bill featuring effective market forces as well as medical-malpractice reform.”
Trying to build a new, bipartisan bill, says Grassley, may also be the best way for the Democrats to avoid using “reconciliation,” a Senate procedural tool in which a majority party can pass a bill while skirting the threat of a filibuster. “If they try to use reconciliation, it’s going to get bloody and ugly,” says Grassley. “The Democrats will be sorry that they did it.”
President Obama, adds Grassley, could also do more to help make a bipartisan bill a reality. “If the president wants a bipartisan agreement, he can tell us that he will sign a bill without a public option and one that includes real, strong tort reform, such as a cap on punitive damages.” Democrats, says Grassley, have also expressed similar hopes to him in off-the-record conversations.