Baucus moving forward — with or without GOP

BAUCUS MOVING FORWARD — WITH OR WITHOUT GOP…. Weeks ago, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) publicly indicated his Gang of Six talks would not continue indefinitely. He would wrap things up in mid-September, which was intended to give the negotiations an added sense of urgency. Nothing happened — Republicans wouldn’t budge.

This afternoon, Baucus said the Senate Finance Committee will move forward with a health care reform bill — with or without Republican votes — with a committee markup scheduled for the week of Sept. 21.

Baucus made the announcement Wednesday after privately telling Finance Committee Democrats during a morning meeting that he will introduce a bill in the early or middle part of next week.

The move came ahead of a meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon with the bipartisan Group of Six Senate negotiators, who had been trying to reach an agreement for months. It’s unclear how those talks will be affected by the announcement.

But by making clear that he will move forward, Baucus gave President Barack Obama a significant talking point for his speech Wednesday night before a joint session of Congress. The president will be able to point to progress in the five congressional committees with jurisdiction over health care.

“He is making clear in the meeting that it is time for action and time to move forward to get a bill done by the end of the year,” according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

This is significant. Before the recess, Baucus indicated that the Finance Committee would move on a bill when a bipartisan deal was in place. Today’s news means the Gang of Six’s relevance no longer matters — the Finance Committee is moving forward.

This announcement doesn’t preclude a bipartisan deal — the six centrists and conservatives will apparently keep chatting — but it means their discussions will no longer delay the process. The train is leaving the station in two weeks; whether Republicans climb on is up to them.