Liberal Senators Grumble Over Baucus' Concessions

As the pressure mounts for Democrats to make progress on health care legislation, some liberal members of the party are losing their patience with one senator who is key to moving the process forward, according to various reports.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has been leading attempts among a group of six senators to draft bipartisan health care reform and recently announced progress on a bill that would eventually insure 95 percent of Americans by establishing non-profit health care cooperatives, rather than through a government-sponsored plan as liberals would like. Yet even as the "group of six," as they refer to themselves, makes progress, they are also dragging their feet on getting any specific bill out of the Finance Committee.

Baucus' concessions to Republicans on health care reform have angered some other Democrats in his own committee. Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.V.), a proponent of the public option who sits on the Finance Committee, has expressed his anger at being shut out of the "group of six" discussions. With respect to the concessions made so far, the New York Times reports, Rockefeller said this week with a grim look, "Can't you see the joy on my face?"

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was responsible for attempting to draft plan for a public option for the Senate Finance Committee, but was also left out of the "group of six" talks. He was one of the handful of legislators to adamantly advocate for the public option at a health care rally before tens of thousands of people last month. Schumer told National Public Radio that "while certainly we want to include Republicans, they can't move so far over to the right that a majority, or even a large minority, of Democrats on the committee have a horrible taste in their mouth about it."

The discontent over compromises Baucus has made with Republicans mirrors the anger liberals in the House feel over recent compromises made with the moderate Blue Dog Democrats.

Baucus has a history of breaking ranks with his party. He supported former President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts, as well as the 2003 Medicare prescription drug plan Republicans produced.

With health care negotiations taking longer than expected, at least one senior Democratic senator thinks Baucus's chairmanship should be put to a secret ballot vote, reports the Hill newspaper. The senator remained anonymous for fear of angering Baucus.

"Put me down as a yes, but if you use my name I'll send a SWAT team after you," the senator told the newspaper.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, reportedly said all committee chairmen should be subject to a secret-ballot vote every two years.

"Every two years the caucus could have a secret ballot on whether a chairman should continue, yes or no," he said, according to the Hill. "If the 'no's win, [the chairman's] out. I've heard it talked about before."

Typically, Democratic committee chairmen can keep their positions as long as they like. The Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee is responsible for recommending senators to the leadership positions. Republican chairmen, on the other hand, may only serve three full terms due to their party rules.