Senate moderates praise Baucus healthcare bill

Olympia Snowe, a Republican, and several moderate Democrats say they like the Finance Committee's legislation

Published September 17, 2009 9:16PM (EDT)

Max Baucus has more fans than it seemed.

A day after the Montana Democrat released his attempt at a bipartisan compromise on healthcare legislation -- and won criticism from both sides of the aisle for it -- a truly bipartisan group in the Senate issued a joint statement Thursday praising his work.

"We commend Chairman Baucus for his efforts to forge a health care reform proposal that has the potential to gain broad bipartisan support," said the statement, signed by Republican Olympia Snowe, of Maine; Democrats Ben Nelson, of Nebraska, and Claire McCaskill, of Missouri; and independent Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, who caucuses with the Democrats. "We are encouraged by his commitment to work with both Democrats and Republicans in the Finance Committee, and believe there is a responsibility for both sides of the aisle to work together to develop a bill that will earn strong support from the full Senate."

The group emphasized the areas they agree on in Baucus's draft -- like insurance reforms and tax credits to help low-income Americans buy coverage. The statement doesn't get into specifics of how they'll work to resolve the differences the group acknowledged still exists, but the group said they would try.

The support could mean Baucus's plan has some legs, after all. On Wednesday, when he released it, few lawmakers were willing to endorse it.

A liberal group, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, also praised the bill, though it took issue with some of its provisions. "It would be a great mistake to reject the plan and end up with nothing," said Robert Greenstein, the group's executive director. "Such an outcome would effectively constitute a vote for the worst plan on the table -- continuation of the status quo, with its massive inequities, 46 million people without insurance (a number the Congressional Budget Office says will grow to 54 million over the next ten years), and spiraling costs."

The Finance Committee is set to begin debate on Baucus's proposal next week. If it passes, that would set the stage for Senate leaders to combine it with a more liberal version approved by the health committee, and bring the reform proposal to the floor. Baucus and his allies say his draft is the only version that can pass the Senate.

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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