Salon on the Loneliness of Max Baucus


In the end, after months and months of negotiations aimed at winning bipartisan support for a healthcare reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus was all alone on Wednesday as he announced his draft proposal. He stood, looking lonely, in front of a backdrop that could have accommodated his entire so-called Gang of Six — if, that is, the talks had worked out. As it was, he showed up as a Gang of One. But don’t tell Baucus his work had come to naught. “No Republican has offered his or her support at this moment,” he admitted. “But I think by the time we get the final passage in this committee, you’ll find Republican support. This is a bill that should enjoy broad support.”

[SNIP] GOP leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the plan outright: “Only in Washington would anyone think [it] makes sense, especially in this economy.”

Many Democrats were even harsher. “We can do better,” said Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who was cut out of the negotiations even though he’s on the Finance Committee. Russ Feingold, of Wisconsin, called it “healthcare reform in name only.” . . .

Baucus had managed, it seemed, to produce bipartisan unity after all — but against, not for, his bill. The whole point of the exercise had been to get Republicans on board, and they walked away. Baucus himself had said, last week, that a deal was there to be had, but “it comes down to a matter of political will.” The GOP turned out not to have it. But Baucus still sounded surprised to finally learn that.

“We’ve debated this thing — we’ve met over a hundred hours,” he said. “I forget what the total is. There are no real policy deal-breakers. It just — it’s more getting more comfortable with what all this is.”