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Health reform hits roadblock

Baucus gets no guarantee of GOP support on plan

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats’ most concerted quest for a bipartisan compromise on health care collapsed Tuesday as Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced he would move ahead with his long-delayed proposals without any guarantee of Republican support.

Even as Baucus hit that roadblock from the right, he also took a blow from his own party’s left, as a senior Senate Democrat declared that too many concessions have already been made and he would not support the emerging bill because it did not include a public insurance option.

“I cannot agree with (Baucus) on this bill,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a senior member of the Finance Committee who has been briefed on the proposal. “There is no way, in its present form, that I will vote for it.”

The Baucus plan, which scales back President Barack Obama’s ambitious proposals both in scope and cost, is considered a likely template for the measure that will ultimately clear the Senate. It has been designed to allay the concerns of moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats as well as Republicans.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to begin voting on its provisions next week. By the time the panel finishes amending and debating the bill, Baucus said he hoped the measure will have gained some Republican backing. But a last-minute session with his GOP counterparts – the latest in a months-long string of such negotiations – broke up late Tuesday with no commitment of Republican support.

Rockefeller’s defection and the collapse of the eleventh-hour negotiation with Republicans came just as the White House was ramping up pressure on the Senate to act – even if that meant scaling back Obama’s expectations of the legislation.

David Axelrod, Obama’s senior political adviser, met Tuesday with Senate Democrats to underscore the political risks of failing to revamp the health care system. According to Baucus, he cited polls showing high public demand for changes – and increasing support as people learn the details of what Democrats are trying to do.

The Baucus version of a health care overhaul would significantly scale back the cost and scope of the legislation approved by two House committees and another in the Senate. And it would shun the “public option” preferred by many Democrats and their supporters.

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