Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus is moving forward with a chairman's mark of healthcare overhaul legislation next week regardless of whether Republican support exists for the measure.
"I very much hope and expect Republicans to be on board. I don't know how many, but if there are not any, I'm going to move forward in any event," Baucus said after a meeting today with Finance Democrats.
Baucus also has scheduled a markup for the week of Sept. 21. He expects the chairman's mark will closely resemble the compromise proposal he released over the weekend for bipartisan scrutiny, including a provision creating a co-op system of health insurance, rather than a public option, to compete with private insurers.
"I think with increasing conviction that the public option cannot pass the Senate," Baucus said.
Senate Finance Health Subcommittee Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was not pleased with Baucus' proposal, in particular the co-op provision. "The co-op has never been presented with any possibility of its working," said Rockefeller, a champion of the public option.
Baucus also indicated a "trigger" proposal, which would permit the public option to kick in only if private insurers do not provide affordable insurance, is not an alternative. "I read a lot about the trigger in the media, but I don't hear a lot about it in these meetings," he said. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has pushed for such a mechanism.
Baucus' proposal to create a cross-state insurance exchange drew some criticism. Rockefeller said the plan would place children from low-income families in the exchange rather than enrolling them primarily in the Children's Health Insurance Program, which has largely been seen as a success.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also took issue with the exchange proposal, arguing all citizens should have access to the exchange regardless of employment or insurance status. The Baucus proposal permits only those without affordable employer-provided insurance to participate in the exchange.
"The general feeling is this is a starting point," Wyden said.
Three Republican senators negotiating closely with Baucus gave him their list of concerns this morning. The group is expected to meet today to attempt to forge a compromise based on the input. Baucus wants the group to reach a deal before President Obama's healthcare speech tonight.
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, one of the bipartisan negotiators, argued against a deadline.
"Everybody kind of needs to take a deep breath. Let's get this right," Conrad said. "Let's not just get stampeded and rushed to do things that we're not ready to do right."
This article appears in the September 12, 2009 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.