Possible Democratic defections leave fate of Baucus’ bill uncertain

The Washington Post (10/5, Connolly) reports Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) “have refused to pledge support for the healthcare reform bill scheduled for a vote this week” in the Senate Finance Committee, “underscoring the hard work ahead for President Obama as he tries to enact the most ambitious domestic policy legislation in more than a generation.” Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) “said he has the votes to pass the 10-year, $900 billion bill out of the committee,” but if “all 10 Republicans on the panel vote no, two Democratic defections would be enough to send Baucus and the Obama White House scrambling to regroup.”

Democratic leaders pressure moderates to support public option. Roll Call (10/5, Drucker, Pierce, subscription required) reports moderate Senate Democrats “face increasing pressure to support a healthcare bill that includes a public insurance option, and many appear prepared to fall in line with Democratic leaders — provided they are presented with a bill that can withstand public scrutiny in their home states.” To “seal the endorsement of moderates, Democratic leaders are working to wrap the controversial elements of reform in a politically attractive message to the centrists’ conservative-leaning constituents.” Both Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “indicated that state-specific or Senator-specific sweeteners might be added to secure centrist votes.”

Democrats face new hurdles as healthcare overhaul moves closer to fruition. In a front-page story, the New York Times (10/4, A1, Pear, Herszenhorn) reported that after the Senate Finance Committee approves “its healthcare bill this week,” Democrats will be “closer than ever” to a major healthcare overhaul. However, party leaders “still face immense political and policy challenges.” For one, they must “combine rival proposals — two bills in the Senate and three in the House.” Moreover, Senate Democrats must address “intricate details” and are likely to face “big hurdles” as they seek to “secure the 60 votes needed to overcome a possible Republican filibuster.” Policy challenges “are also daunting.” Over the course of “one year, the Democrats are trying to restructure one-sixth of the economy,” and writing a bill that “will affect almost every American, every business and every doctor and hospital in the country.”

Similarly, Politico (10/3, Brown) noted that although Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) “brought Congress closer than it ever has been to passing” comprehensive reform, the panel “didn’t even come close to finishing” work on the bill, ending Friday with “long and complex” list of “unresolved” issues. Complicating the matter is that fact that the process has “begun to move to the discreet backrooms of the Capitol,” where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will “begin huddling next week with other top Democrats to meld two competing Senate bills.”

House Democratic negotiations seen as hindered by party divisiveness. The Hill (10/3, Soraghan) reported that House Democratic leaders, despite “60 hours worth” of “behind closed doors” caucus meetings in September, still have many “problematic issues…unresolved.” The most “public debate is about the ‘public option,'” as Speaker Nancy Pelosi “tries to mediate a burgeoning feud between liberals and centrist Blue Dog Democrats about what form the government-run plan should take in the legislation.” But the “tax question” — they “have not decided what taxes to raise, or whether to raise them at all” — could be “even more divisive…pitting union allies against business-minded centrists who believe that a tax-the-rich strategy will backfire by hitting small business.”

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