Baucus says bipartisan healthcare plan "on track"

A group in the Senate Finance Committee will keep pushing for a deal with the GOP

Published August 19, 2009 5:20PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group on the Senate Finance Committee still plans to keep pushing for a deal that can unite Republicans and Democrats on healthcare reform.

Sen. Max Baucus, the committee chairman, just issued a statement underlining his commitment to negotiations. "Bipartisan progress continues," Baucus said. "The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate."

The Baucus memo came out only a few hours after the New York Times reported that the White House and Senate leadership was ready to pull the plug on any attempts at bipartisanship, since Republicans are indicating they might not vote for healthcare legislation even if Democrats give up a number of concessions. (No word on whether they'd have to set up a death panel to kill the bipartisan effort.) Baucus is going to keep trying, nonetheless, with a conference call among the six senators involved in the talks set for 9 p.m. EDT Thursday night. The group will meet again before the August recess ends.

One of Baucus's phrases -- "reform that can pass the Senate" -- was clearly the most important one. Senate Democrats are looking warily at the likely vote counts on different healthcare proposals and trying to figure out what can get enough support to beat back an expected GOP filibuster attempt, which requires 60 votes.

You'd think that wouldn't be a problem, since there are 60 Democratic senators. As Alex Koppelman asked in War Room yesterday, why negotiate? But Ted Kennedy is out sick, and as one Senate aide pointed out to Salon, some more conservative Democrats might take as much negotiation to get on board with a bill as some Republicans will. Senators like Ben Nelson, of Nebraska; Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana; and Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas, are all likely to be more comfortable voting for a bill with at least some GOP support than one that passes on a straight party line. (To see who else the Democrats might have to worry about, check this handy map from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee of the 2010 Senate races. Chances are most of the wavering Democrats are on it.)

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Healthcare Reform War Room