SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE GETS TO WORK…. It’s several months later than expected, but the Senate Finance Committee will get together this morning and start actually doing the heavy lifting on crafting a health care reform bill.

To help grease the skids, Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) made some improvements to his bill late yesterday, in the hopes of securing additional support from Democrats who’d been locked out of Baucus-led negotiations all summer.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, said Monday that he would modify his health care bill to provide more assistance to moderate-income Americans to help them buy insurance. Mr. Baucus also said he would make changes to reduce the impact of a proposed tax on high-end health insurance policies. […]

Mr. Baucus said he believed the changes would “help smooth the way for passage” of the bill in the Finance Committee, where he will try to navigate through critics on the left and the right.

The devil, of course, is still in the details, but Baucus at least seems like he’s moving in the right direction. He didn’t say specifically how much he would, for example, improve subsidy levels for the middle class, but Baucus conceded the subsidies “will clearly be more generous.” The NYT added, “He said he wanted to reduce the maximum amount that moderate-income Americans would have to pay in premiums under the legislation to less than 12 percent of income.” Baucus’ framework from last week eyed 13%, which suggests his improvement is slight, but progress is progress.

Baucus still isn’t going for a public option, though he expressed renewed interest yesterday in the Snowe “trigger” idea. Baucus also signaled a willingness to reduce penalties for those who refuse to get insurance.

Time‘s Karen Tumulty had a helpful overview of what to look out for as the Finance Committee rolls up its sleeves on Baucus’ proposal: “It faces hundreds of amendments, promising a tug of war between the left and the right that will be the best test yet of whether this legislation has any chance of ever reaching the President’s desk.”

Tumulty added that Baucus is “moving with uncharacteristic speed.” In terms of the calendar, that’s heartening — the chairman thinks it’s possible an amended version of the reform bill could be approved as early as this week. At that point, the Senate leadership would begin merging it with the Senate HELP bill that passed in July.

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority Leader said a bill could be on the Senate floor in early October. In other words, in just two weeks, for the first time in history, the Senate could be debating a health care reform bill.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.