Define ‘steady progress’

DEFINE ‘STEADY PROGRESS’…. In light of multiple reports pointing to the end of bipartisan outreach to congressional Republicans on health care reform, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) issued a statement today defending his efforts.

“The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate,” Baucus said, adding how “confident” he is that the Gang of Six “will continue our steady progress.”

I have to wonder, where is this “steady progress” hiding?

The members of the Gang of Six haven’t met at all over the August recess. There were plans for the senators to get together, but Chuck Grassley scrapped them, citing a busy schedule. Grassley, of course, is the same conservative Republican who acknowledged this week that he’s likely to vote against his own compromise bill. It came the same time another member of the Gang of Six suggested breaking up the reform bill into pieces, and another member talking about keeping the talks going indefinitely, regardless of deadlines.

The Finance Committee is “on track”? Members are making “steady progress? Huh?

Ezra Klein had a good item yesterday, pondering what on earth Baucus is thinking. He and Grassley have worked together on many key pieces of legislation, but the two take separate paths all the time.

There’s no scenario in which I can imagine the Gang of Six negotiations producing a more secure product. The White House cannot credibly claim to preserve its compromise against the wishes of other Democrats in the Finance Committee, the HELP Committee, the Senate and the House. As such, there’s no plausible endgame here. Chuck Grassley can’t, and won’t, support the final bill. He has said as much. Baucus saw him defect on stimulus, and Baucus, in recent years, has repeatedly had to abandon Grassley on much less controversial health-care reforms than this one.

Yet Baucus has put himself completely on the line to preserve Grassley’s role in the process. He’s taking an enormous amount of fire for prizing bipartisanship over speed. He’s increasingly loathed by liberals and facing an enormous amount of anger from the other members of his committee. There’s even talk of reforms meant to deprive him of his chairmanship. And Grassley, for his part, is raging against the bill in public and doing nothing to provide cover for his friend or inspire confidence in the process.

I want to offer a clean conclusion here. I want a neat theory of what the Gang of Six is attempting, or how they see this playing out. But I don’t have one. It’s the single part of the process I really and truly do not understand.

I’m at a loss myself. I don’t know why Baucus insists on keeping this going, and why he continues to think his negotiations — with senators who plan to vote against reform anyway — are “on track.”