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Gang of Six Death Watch: Baucus Begins to Back Away

This morning's Washington Post sees Sen. Max Baucus beginning to protect himself from the collapse of the "Gang of Six":

"I think the chances are still good," Baucus told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. "I talked to them, and they all want to do health care reform. But the sad part is a lot politics have crept in. They are being told by the Republican Party not to participate."

It's hard to see how the chances are still good if the Republicans are being told not to participate, particularly given that Sen. Chuck Grassley has said he won't vote for any bill that doesn't attract substantial Republican support. This is, to my knowledge, the first time Baucus has admitted the possibility of failure in his "Gang of Six" process, much less named the Republican leadership as the causal mechanism.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 1, 2009; 10:04 AM ET
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This would seem to make Baucus' self-imposed deadline of Sept. 15 much more relevant again.

Posted by: andrewlong | September 1, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

""I talked to them, and they all want to do health care reform."

Can it be possible that Max is this clueless, out of touch and living in dreamland? Is this what origins in MT and a life spent in DC environs does to one's mind?

I'm actually embarrassed for the poor SOB, since he left his in the bar in O'Hare Airport waiting for a connecting flight.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | September 1, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Is Marie Baritomo really as angry and dense in person as comes across on Teevee?

Posted by: flounder2 | September 1, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Gang, Shmang. Kill this illegal group already.

Posted by: impikk | September 1, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Despite great hopes following the release of his white paper last fall, I've lost all interest in what Max Baucus says. Remember, this is the same guy that twice now has leaked the story that a deal with the republicans is imminent.

He put himself in an awkward position that he can't get out of. If I were the Dems, I would make a loud proclamation that they're offering Bill Bradley's tort reform + public option idea as a last compromise (see NYT op-ed), then when the Republicans refuse, shrug their shoulders, say they tried, and go to reconciliation.

Posted by: CarlosXL | September 1, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

"I talked to them, and they all want to do health care reform."

When Baucus has these private conversations with Enzi and Grassley, I wonder what (if anything) he asks them about their public statements - which are the words of men who are downright eager to *kill* health care reform - and what (if anything) they say in response.

The fact is that even if the GOP leadership were taken out of the equation, Enzi and Grassley have both backed themselves into corners where they'd have a hard time explaining their support of health care reform to their constituents.

Posted by: rt42 | September 1, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

You are dreaming if you think the Dems are ever going to grow a spine and not let the Republicans kill this.

Posted by: AZProgressive | September 1, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

It should not be a case in idealized world but whichever way one looks at it; it is crystal clear that we need extra-ordinary political acumen on behalf of Democrats to hand the responsibility of 'bi-partisan failure' at the doors of GOP. This a classic moment in electoral politics - how to hand over gold paper wrapped 'horse s**t' to the opposing party. (Talk about horse races and entertaining political news coverage...) GOP being opposing party, a junior party in this debate for now, can afford to be shrill with all sorts of tantrums. It is the senior party, the ruling party - Democrats - who needs to be smart and needs to have finesse in this matter. Oh yes, testing times for President Obama's political acumen.

But then again it need not be that hard. Use one of the Obama Rules - go to public with a straight face talking about 'facts'. That will be the best strategy here. Just keep on repeating those facts until each and every American wakes up in the morning speaking those facts like a parrot....

Posted by: umesh409 | September 1, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse


States can have their own Public Option, as some already do, like Vermont, but we need a "back-up" Federal public option program, for everybody not covered adequately by State Plans, and for funding and maintaining federal standards.

It is a better idea to keep a State public option paradigm, because many good States have good plans and a public option administrative system infrastructure (it would be a waste to just throw it away) The transition to Federal health care reform could be seamless. People in such States are already familiar with their State Plans. They can only get better, and get more funding with Federal Health Care Reform bill.

Such a plan would disarm the republican charge of Obama's health plan as a giant federal government "take-over" - also people feel they have more control over their State government plans. This does wonders for the trust and "comfort" factor, as people are familiar with their own State systems. For instance, citizens of Mississippi would be more likely to believe elective abortions are not covered under their own State Public Option Plan.

However, we still very much need the existence of a Federal Public Option, in addition to State Programs for several reasons:

(1) as a funding mechanism and fiscal template for the State plans

(2) to insure the States keep their public option health plans up to a Federal Standard. The Federal Public Option Plan acts as a standards establisher and standards enforcer.

(3) to act as a backup for the people in States with no public health plan, or for people in States that have public option plans that don't meet the Federal Public Option coverage standard, and have therefore not received federal funding.

(4) as a public plan for people with no State residency or other special extenuating circumstances. The Federal public option can also cover the DC citizens.

Posted by: ffcaruso | September 1, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

First, people need to understand that Max Baucus is incapable of intelligently discussing serious issues. It's not that he doesn't understand the issues. Rather, it appears from watching him for 35 years that he suffers from speech or communication impediment that prevents him from putting oral sentences together in a fashion that makes any sense. As a result, you almost never see him on a Sunday morning TV interview show. Further, when he does talk to the media, he tries to limit his comments to meaningless generalisms. Second, the Montana media is either so inept that its members don't know how to pin Baucus down or they are so in awe of his great power as Finance Committee Chairman that they don't want to "bring him down" by asking any tough questions. Notwithstanding his speaking deficts, Baucus is both a smart and vindictive person. Assuming Grassley and Enzi are prepared to torpedo Max's chance to shine with a bi-partisan health care bill, everyone from those two to the Democratic left (to whom Baucus has little or no loyalty)will pay dearly if they ever need Baucus in the future.

Posted by: MontanaDem | September 1, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, Don't you think that it is a bit odd that the dems can walk away from negotiations anytime or say any sort of impolitic thing without being accused of "killing bipartisanship" while the Republicans are accusd of "killing bipartisanship" if they so much as say a word about doubting the dems proposals.
The Repubs seem to buy into everything except the "public option" while the dems seem willing to deal away anything except the "public option". Doesn't it make you wonder just a tiny bit who is negotiating in good faith here? The "public option" walks and talks like a Trojan horse for single payer. Even though the insurers (unh) make about $4/month/customer year in and year out while everybody else in healthcare is raising their prices through the roof, it seems that the dems only want one thing... to kill the insurers.
Ezra, can you honestly say that the "public option" is designed to do anything other than keep millions of beauracrats living in the style that they have become accustom to?
Ezra, do you have any real issues with the insurers or is it that they just happen to be sitting in the chairs that the beauracracy covets?
Best regards

Posted by: srlabelle2000 | September 1, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Baucus has been played for a real chump this whole time. That he has not seen it is embarrassing for him. That he does not now go out on the total offensive and lay Grassley and Enzi out for dead given their actions over the last month is beyond belief.Baucus can walk away now and there is no way the Dems can be accused of not playing ball.

Posted by: scott1959 | September 3, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

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