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After months of talks, Baucus unveils health care reform bill

September 24th, 2009

The push for health care reform intensified last Wednesday when Sen. Max Baucus released his much anticipated bill.

The Democrat from Montana had been in tough negotiations with so called “Gang of Six” which is a bipartisanship collection of senators focused on providing a moderate approach to health care reform.

Baucus released his bill a week after President Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress on the importance of passing a health care bill.

This particular version of reform sets the stage of what could be a very tenuous debate on the floors of the house and senate.

Although Baucus supports the President’s call to action in reforming the health care system in America, this bill does not include the President’s and the House favored public option.

Instead, this $856 billion dollar plan calls for the installment of nongovernmental cooperatives.

Although it lacks a public option, the bill does provide for numerous items that would please liberal members of Congress as well as President Obama.

It does create a market exchange, prevents insurance companies from dropping coverage due to illness or pre-existing conditions, does not extend coverage to illegal immigrants, prohibits funding for abortions, and after 10 years, would actually start to reduce the federal debt, something that none of the other major proposals in Congress would achieve.

It also institutes a mandate that all citizens must attain some form of health care coverage. For those individuals unable to financially secure coverage, federal subsidies would be issued.

While the “Gang of Six” tried to produce a bipartisan bill, no Republican has yet to offer support. According to Larry Schwab, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “Baucus was not able to get the Republican support he was hoping for.”

With none of his Republican colleagues from the “Gang of Six” along side, Baucus was forced to outline his bill to the media alone.

There exists little hope in the near future that any Republicans would offer their support to this particular bill; perhaps signaling that the goal of bipartisanship on health care reform could be dead.

Several members of the Democratic Caucus had been hoping to pick up Republican votes, such as Senator Olympia Snow from Maine, in order to reach the magic number of 60 since Democrats currently only hold 59 votes in the Senate.

What the bill has accomplished is a division among the Democrats in Congress. Moderates have suggested a more conservative approach to reform in order to attract Republican support while liberals have insisted on the controversial public option.

Criticism of this bill crossed party lines as both Democrats and Republicans expressed their frustration.

According to Politico, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner from Ohio said, “This partisan bill is the wrong prescription during these tough economic times.”

Even Baucus’ Democratic Senate Finance Committee colleague, Sen. Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia, said to MSNBC, “I can’t vote for the Baucus bill in its current form.”

The bill will now go back to the Senate Finance Committee, where it is expected that several amendments will be proposed and possibly added before it has any chance of advancing to the Senate floor.

Schwab also said, “it clearly will be a very important proposal in the debate.”

If the bill gets out of the Senate Finance Committee, the Democratic leadership will be forced to continue the path toward bipartisanship, push through a bill focused on the liberalbacked public option or somehow combine the Baucus bill with the various other health insurance reform proposals in the House and Senate.