Critical Condition

Baucus Isn’t Helping Obama?

From Roll Call

Senate Democrats are increasingly frustrated by the secrecy and duration of Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) bipartisan talks on health care reform, with some saying it could undermine Democratic support for the bill.

Democrats both on and off the Finance Committee said the briefings they get about the six negotiators’ progress are too vague. Plus, they say, without a bill in hand, they cannot defend or sell the package to a wary media and public.

“At some point, [Baucus is] going to have to worry about getting Democratic votes,” said one Democratic Senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If they think that we’ll take whatever it is that comes out because we want to get something passed, they’re wrong.”

Another Democratic Senator said the updates Democrats are getting from Baucus contain few specifics on the policy changes being explored by his bipartisan group, which also includes Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.).

“The report that we get is the same one we get week after week after week: ‘We’re close. We’re close. We’re close,’” said the Democratic Senator.

This isn’t the first time Baucus has been the subject of his colleagues’ ire. Many Democrats are still steaming over Baucus’ willingness to align with the Bush administration on controversial tax cuts and a sweeping Medicare prescription drug bill. However, he did gain back some credibility with fellow Democrats when he took a lead roll in killing Bush’s Social Security proposals.