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Now All Eyes Move to Baucus

In the wake of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s party-line passage of sweeping health reform legislation this morning, all eyes are now on Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who’s still scrambling to craft a proposal that can win GOP votes.

To succeed, Baucus will have to stray decidedly from the HELP committee proposal (i.e., it will have to eliminate the public-plan option). That much is evident not only from the fact that no Republican on the HELP panel voted for the HELP bill, but also from the bitterness that sprung up during that debate — and afterwards. Indeed, Republicans have been doing interviews all morning condemning not only the bill, but the process that pieced it together.

“This partisan bill,” said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), “will have a negative impact on the high quality health care and innovation we have become accustomed to in the United States. It moves us closer to a single-payer system where choice of care, treatments, and even a patient’s personal doctor will be mandated by a bureaucrat in Washington D.C.”

Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), senior Republican on the Finance Committte, also blasted the HELP bill this morning, arguing in a phone call with reporters that health care reform, because it’s an issue that affects literally everyone, “ought to have a broad base of consensus.”

Grassley also pointed to a more practical reason why he and Baucus are working on a proposal that some Republicans can support: It probably won’t pass otherwise.

“Not much gets done in the Senate that’s not bipartisan,” he said.

After the HELP vote this morning, Baucus issued a statement vowing to work with HELP members to combine the two bills into something everyone can support. But he’ll have to decide shortly whether he wants to prioritize bipartisanship above the Democrats’ wishes to include a public option as part of their strategy.

We’ll know soon enough what Baucus comes up with. The Finance Committee proposal is expected for release as early as Thursday.

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