Baucus comes up empty on GOP votes

BAUCUS COMES UP EMPTY ON GOP VOTES…. After months of negotiations, debate, and partisan wrangling, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will unveil his health care reform framework today. Baucus, who delayed the entire legislative process for months, simply so he could work with Republicans on a bipartisan solution, has managed to garner a grand total of zero GOP votes for his proposal.

CNN has learned that — barring some unforeseen change — Democratic Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus will unveil a health care proposal Wednesday without the support of the three Republican senators — Charles Grassley, Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe — he’s been negotiating with for months.

…Wednesday, when the Senate Finance Chairman unveils his bill, all indications are he will be doing it without the support of Republicans he has spent hundreds of hours negotiating with.

Gang of Six members reportedly chatted again last night, but agreed to nothing.

So, in the span of a half-day, Baucus’ reform package was rejected by one of the Finance Committee’s leading Democrats (Jay Rockefeller) and all of the Finance Committee’s Republicans. An inauspicious start, to be sure.

All eyes have been on Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), the Senate’s most moderate Republican and the only GOP lawmaker on the Hill who seems sincere about wanting a reform bill. She no doubt disappointed Baucus when she concluded that his bill just isn’t good enough.

But let’s not lose sight of why Snowe balked at the Baucus framework. For one thing, she’s concerned about the financing mechanism, which she believes would hit Maine hard. But just as importantly, Snowe also believes (as I do) that Baucus’ plan offers weak and inadequate subsidies. “The affordability question is crucial,” Snowe said. “It’s a central component, because at the end of the day people have high expectations they will have access to affordable health insurance.”

In other words, one of the leading Republican negotiators on health care reform believes Baucus’ plan is too conservative.

So, does this mean Dems will have no choice but to go it alone, probably through reconciliation? That’s probably premature — Snowe isn’t going for Baucus’ plan, but Baucus’ plan isn’t the final bill. It’s about to be amended a whole lot in committee, and then has to be reconciled with the HELP bill.

Snowe may still be able to support a reform package — just not the one Baucus will formally present today.

As for the committee chairman, this has to be pretty embarrassing. He invested months and countless hours in this, holding up health care reform with painful delays. Indeed, don’t forget that the Finance Committee was supposed to be the first committee to pass reform.

Baucus, it appears, has very little to show for his efforts.