Baucus keeps talking, Dems keep waiting

BAUCUS KEEPS TALKING, DEMS KEEP WAITING…. One of the more frustrating lingering obstacles to health care reform is the Senate Finance Committee, which has hosted bipartisan negotiations for quite a long while now, without producing a bill. Two weeks ago, multiple news outlets reported that the Democratic leadership had seen enough — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sent word to Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to stop “chasing Republican votes” and start moving a bill out of committee.

Fifteen days later, very little has changed. The Senate is still waiting on the Finance Committee; Baucus is still prioritizing Republican satisfaction; and Democratic policymakers are still annoyed.

Senate Democrats are increasingly frustrated by the secrecy and duration of Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) bipartisan talks on health care reform, with some saying it could undermine Democratic support for the bill.

Democrats both on and off the Finance Committee said the briefings they get about the six negotiators’ progress are too vague. Plus, they say, without a bill in hand, they cannot defend or sell the package to a wary media and public.

“At some point, [Baucus is] going to have to worry about getting Democratic votes,” said one Democratic Senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If they think that we’ll take whatever it is that comes out because we want to get something passed, they’re wrong.” […]

“The report that we get is the same one we get week after week after week: ‘We’re close. We’re close. We’re close,'” said the Democratic Senator.

Before yesterday, the bipartisan group engaged in negotiations included Baucus, Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico, Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine, Mike Enzi (R) of Wyoming, and Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah. Hatch, of course, walked away yesterday. The remaining six* will continue talks today.

Baucus hopes to strike some kind of deal, at which point “he will brief his caucus in detail.” In other words, Senate Democrats don’t yet know exactly what it is Baucus is prepared to give up to gain the support of a handful of Senate Republicans.

I’m not surprised there’s growing frustration; I’m surprised the frustration isn’t louder.

There’s also the matter of geography — the six senators involved in the talks all represent rural states with small populations and few, if any, urban areas. A Democratic senator described this as “a real problem.”

Conrad said the senators involved in the talks are “very aware of that, and we’re trying to come up with a proposal that will resonate with colleagues all across the country.”

For now, I guess we’ll just have to take their word for it?

* corrected