Reid To Baucus: Ditch Efforts At Bipartisanship

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) takes his knocks for not driving a hard bargain with Republicans and conservative members of his own party. But a breaking report suggests that might be changing on the issue of health care reform. According to Roll Call Reid “ordered” Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D-MT) to “drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill.”

That tax provision–more regressive than other financing proposals–is how many expected the committee to pay for their forthcoming health care bill. This jibes well with an earlier report that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)–an influential member of the panel–was walking away from the idea.

According to Roll Call “Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes.”

If Baucus got the message, it would indicate a major change in the committee’s direction. His is the only relevant panel not to have introduced a draft of health care reform legislation thanks in large part to internal wrangling over provisions like financing and the public option. Finance was widely expected to eschew a public option in favor of privately run health care co-operatives, and to propose paying for the bill by taxing employer-provided health care benefits. Neither idea has support among liberal Democrats.

If the Finance Committee does indeed change course, then all committees of jurisdiction, in both the House and Senate, will be working with legislation that calls for the creation of a public option–something Republicans have vowed to oppose.

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