Gang of Six: Dead committee walking?

GANG OF SIX: DEAD COMMITTEE WALKING?…. The Senate Finance Committee’s Gang of Six was never a good idea. In April, committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was ready to move forward with a bill very much in line with a Kennedy-backed proposal, which they’d collaborated on for a year. Soon after, Baucus decided to try “bipartisanship.”

Bad idea. Baucus assembled a committee within a committee, and excluded progressive senators from the process altogether. Six lawmakers — centrists and center-right members from rural states — met in private. Two of the six working on health care reform made it clear they’re against health care reform. The panel kept demanding more time, getting more time, and then doing nothing with the extra time.

The Gang of Six fiasco seems to be, at long last, falling apart.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana says a health care overhaul will happen this year even if Republicans back out of bipartisan talks under growing public pressure and that the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy could help hold together a compromise deal.

Baucus is leading a panel of two other Democrats and three Republicans that is being watched closely by everyone from the White House and beyond. Chances of a bipartisan breakthrough appear to be diminishing in the face of an effective public mobilization by opponents during the August congressional recess.

For his part, Baucus continues to say bipartisan talks have a chance. Indeed, he told the AP “chances are still good.” There’s every reason to believe that’s not the case. Baucus wouldn’t have told the AP that reform is moving forward, with or without Republican support, if he didn’t see that as a likely next step.

The writing is on the proverbial wall. Chuck Grassley is obviously not serious about the negotiations; Mike Enzi has dropped the pretense of sensibility; and the White House is officially sick of both of them. If the search for bipartisanship is going to continue, it will have to look beyond these two.

Everything I’m hearing is very much in line with what Ezra reported: “Everyone I’ve spoken to in the Senate believes, strongly, that this process is about to break down, and the Democrats are going to move forward on a more partisan basis. Presumably, the Republicans in the Gang of Six process have heard the same and have no interest in looking like fools when that happens…. As far as I can tell, the Gang of Six process is already dead. What’s happening now is that the participants seem to be raiding its corpse.”

I suspect that the Gang of Six will at least go through the motions for two more weeks, in advance of its Sept. 15 deadline. At that point, however, the process can begin functioning again.