House Dem leader eyes end of bipartisan talks

HOUSE DEM LEADER EYES END OF BIPARTISAN TALKS…. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), suggested this morning that the value of bipartisan health care reform talks is nearing its end.

“What concerns me about what’s happened in the Senate Finance Committee is that they’ve had a whole lot of time to work these things out, and just don’t seem to be able to break the impasse,” Van Hollen said in an interview on the liberal Bill Press Radio Show. “It doesn’t seem to be as much about a disagreement over policy issues, and it seems more to be just the lack of the political will on behalf of some to get it done.”

Van Hollen blamed the committee’s slow work on Republicans, who he asserted were unwilling to make the needed “tough decisions” to craft a healthcare bill.

“At some point that’s going to have to happen, and the question is when do you reach that breaking point,” the Maryland Democrat said when asked if Senate Democrats should end negotiations. “At some point they’re going to have to pull the plug on that process, and when they do that is something they’re in a better position to know.”

“A lot of our members in the House want to see, not what the full Senate does, but at least what the Senate Finance Committee moves forward,” he said. “The reality is, a lot of our members want them to at least show their hand a little bit before we ask them to make some very tough decisions.”

The notion that there will come a point at which they’ll have to “pull the plug” is an interesting one, since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed to think we’d reached that point about three weeks ago. And yet, Max Baucus continues to try to find a way to make Republicans happy (with concessions that other Democrats aren’t at all aware of).

Van Hollen’s comments also reinforce the idea that House Dems care a great deal about the direction the Senate is headed in, in large part because they don’t want to stick their necks out on a controversial vote — including, quite likely, tax increases — if the Senate is going to make them regret it. Jon Chait noted earlier, “This isn’t a fundamental clash over ideology. It’s a skirmish over the timing of a vote. The Blue Dogs don’t want to have to vote for a more liberal bill than what ultimately becomes law.”

I wouldn’t go quite that far — I think a clash over Blue Dog ideology makes at least some difference here — but Van Hollen’s remarks this morning suggest Chait is onto something here.

As for the practical implications, Van Hollen’s plug-pulling comments probably won’t sway the Senate deliberations — Baucus and Reid may not care whether the DCCC chair is getting impatient — but it does speak to the growing sense of frustration among Democratic lawmakers that the clock is ticking and Baucus and the Finance Committee are causing delays that might kill reform. The more that frustration grows on the Hill, the more likely Baucus will get a friendly note that says, “Time’s up.”