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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will release his long-awaited health care reform bill Wednesday – but without the Republican support he has sought for months.
Baucus tailored his proposal to win the backing of some Republicans, hoping to keep alive the possibility that Congress would pass a bipartisan bill.
But after months of closed-door talks, none of the three Republicans involved the bipartisan Gang of Six is expected to declare support for the bill Wednesday.
Baucus said he was still hopeful the bill will emerge from the committee vote with bipartisan backing.
“I expect frankly, by the end of the day, by the time we finally vote in committee on final passage, that there will be Republican support,” Baucus said. “The door’s always open – always hoping that somebody, all six, will be on the bill. We’re just going to keep the door open, keep working, keep discussing.”
The lack of Republican support — at the outset, at least — suggests Democrats will need to make more concessions if they hope to produce a bipartisan bill. Otherwise, the Senate leadership may have to use a last-ditch procedural maneuver known as reconciliation to move the bill through the chamber with 51 votes.
The absence of Republicans could also damage President Barack Obama's efforts to convince Americans that his reform plan has broad support.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a statement Tuesday that was silent on whether he planned to support the bill, but the tone of his comments does not bode well for Baucus. Grassley was highly critical of the process and major provisions of the bill.
The White House and the congressional Democratic leadership were forcing the Gang of Six to adhere to an “artificial deadline,” and had failed to assure the group that any agreement would be honored through the legislative process, Grassley said.
He ticked off a long list of concerns, saying the bill “does not meet the shared goals for affordable, accessible health coverage,” and it does not resolve outstanding issues dealing with abortion and illegal immigration. He suggested the bill does not include his alternative proposal to the individual mandate, nor does it include stronger medical liability reform measures he had pushed.
“We’ve been clear from the start that we’re willing to stay at the table,” Grassley said. “There’s no reason not to keep working until we get it right. In the end, legislation that impacts every American should have strong bipartisan support.”
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) declined to say Tuesday when he would declare his position on the bill.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who is considered the likeliest Republican to sign onto the bill, said she wants to wait to see how the committee process plays out.
“I am committed to this process,” Snowe said. “I want this effort to continue and I am going to work through all these issues and the committee process will advance that as well and we will continue to work together.”