Baucus Could Lose Chairmanship Over Stalled Health Care Negotiations

Four House and Senate committees have produced bills to reform health care, and a deal with conservative Blue Dogs in the House suggests that the final House committee involved in negotiations will release a bill shortly. Only Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-MT) Senate Finance Committee has been unable to reach a deal, with two key Republican Senators announcing today that they plan to delay progress even further until after the August recess. In light of the Finance Committee’s inability to move forward, several senators have decided to play hardball with the Committee’s chair:

In an apparent warning to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), some liberal Democrats have suggested a secret-ballot vote every two years on whether or not to strip committee chairmen of their gavels. […]

“Every two years the caucus could have a secret ballot on whether a chairman should continue, yes or no,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “If the ‘no’s win, [the chairman’s] out. […]

Liberals are also upset by reports that Baucus and other members of the Finance panel have tossed aside the proposal to create a robust government-run insurance program.


Some senators suggest privately that Baucus might be more open to persuasion if his chairmanship is subject to regular votes.

Senate Democrats have already grown frustrated with the cloud of secrecy surrounding Baucus’ negotiations. Republicans receive regular briefings on the discussions, but Democrats have been largely left out in the cold, prompting one senator to warn that “[a]t some point, [Baucus is] going to have to worry about getting Democratic votes.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told MSNBC’s Countdown last night that he is worried that Baucus’ strategy to convince Republicans to embrace reform is misguided:

I go back to 40 years ago when the Medicare bill passed. People like Bob Dole, Strom Thurmond, Donald Rumsfeld, Gerald Ford, as Members of Congress, they all opposed it. The fact is, in those days, the Democrats moved forward, they didn’t worry about “we have to have X number of Republicans,” their mission was: we’re going to get a good Medicare bill. … That needs to be our charge, not “we need a bipartisan bill.”

As of yet, Harkin appears to be the only senator willing to go on record in support of a plan to hold committee chairs accountable for their management — or mismanagement — of their committees. Even so, at least one other senator told The Hill that he would support such a plan: “Put me down as a yes, but if you use my name I’ll send a SWAT team after you.”