Baucus sets a deadline

BAUCUS SETS A DEADLINE…. Perhaps Max Baucus started feeling some heat from his colleagues, because he today he did something unusual: he gave Republicans a deadline.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, has told colleagues he will press ahead with major health care legislation on Sept. 15 even if he does not have a bipartisan deal, Democrats said.

The Montana Democrat has been leading efforts by a bipartisan group of senators — three Democrats and three Republicans — to craft a compromise health care bill. But he is under increasing pressure from Democrats and the White House to unveil a draft and begin public committee sessions.

Republicans have urged him not to rush and insisted no deal was possible before the Senate leaves for its summer recess at the end of next week.

At a meeting late Thursday, Mr. Baucus told Democratic Finance committee members of his plan to begin those sessions on Sept. 15th.

Assuming Baucus doesn’t walk this back, it’s a very encouraging development. As Jonathan Chait noted this afternoon, “[T]he only way those Republicans, except maybe Olympia Snowe, will support a bill is if they think there’s a strong chance that Democrats will pass an even more liberal bill without their input. This would give them some incentive to compromise, but zero incentive to compromise quickly. Indeed, they have a strong incentive to drag out the negotiations as long as possible.”

They need, in other words, a deadline, which is what Baucus seems to have given them. If Republicans he’s negotiating with don’t agree to a deal by Sept. 15 — the week after the Senate returns from recess — the committee would ostensibly move forward with a Democratic plan. This tells GOP lawmakers that the train is leaving the station, whether they choose to get on or not is up to them.

Or, as Brian Beutler put it, “[I]t’s put up or shut up time for Republicans.”