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Has A Conservative Republican From Wyoming Taken Over The Health Care Debate In The Senate?

Joining them are Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND). (Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)--whose ties to industry are famous--also participated for a while, but ultimately left the negotations on his own.) Left out were public option point man Chuck Schumer (D-NY) health care expert Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), whose commitment to reform rivals that of ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and the liberals leading the effort in the House. All are members of the Finance Committee.

You probably wouldn't expect such a right-tilted group to arrive at a progressive solution to the country's health care crisis--and you'd be correct. But in the end, this all comes down to Baucus. As chairman of the committee, he committed to passing a bipartisan bill. Some viewed that move alone as a concession, but on a committee packed with moderate Democrats, it was arguably necessary. But as vague of a concept as bipartisanship is, it can mean almost anything when it comes time to vote. As with the stimulus, it can mean Democratic unity combined with the support of three moderate Republicans. And it can mean consensus, where members of both parties--in similar numbers, and of roughly balanced ideology--pass a bill at the expense of liberals and conservatives.

For some reason, Baucus went further than that, soliciting the blessing of deeply conservative Republicans, and no liberals. That doesn't surprise his long time critics, but many still want to know, Why? An aide insists that none of the members of the coalition are supposed to fill specific niches--so we can only speculate. But whether it's Enzi's willingness to play along, or Baucus' desire to burnish his bipartisan cred with a truly conservative Republican on board, or whether there's some sympatico between the two western senators, the results have driven liberals to apoplexy.

About The Author


Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at