- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

There’s a growing sentiment among Democrats that the drawn-out negotiations over the health care overhaul have lasted too long, renewing calls to pass a Democrat-only bill.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, said the bill is getting “weaker and weaker” as the Senate Finance Committee tries to hammer out a bipartisan deal.

“Everything depends on six people, three Democrats and three Republicans … negotiating out what’s going to happen,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

President Obama said he is glad Republicans on the Finance Committee are trying to write a bill with Democrats.

“But they haven’t yet, and I think at some point, sometime in September, we are just going to have to make an assessment,” he told NBC News on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with the six Finance Committee negotiators at the White House today.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and a member of the Finance Committee, warned earlier this week that Democrats have contingencies in place if the committee doesn’t produce a bill by Sept. 15. He declined to name them, but the most prominent is reconciliation. Through budget rules, Democrats would be able to pass at least a portion of health care reform without having to come up with the 60 votes to block a possible Republican filibuster.

A bill crafted only by Democrats has its obstacles, too. Democrats have 60 members in the Senate, but the caucus is operating under the theory that two - Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd - may not be able to vote owing to illness.

In the House, conservative and moderate Blue Dog Democrats put up major hurdles to passage until they were able to delay a full House vote and change the structure of the public plan. Now, liberal Democrats are threatening to withhold support unless some of those changes are undone.

Senate Democrats huddled Wednesday to review the current status of the health care reform plans as they prepare to return to their home districts for the August recess.

But the reality is that the Senate plan is far less defined than the House version. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has already approved its plan, but the Finance Committee is still trying to put together its proposal.

“The general concern is about whether you have something specific” to share with constituents, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said of the meeting.

The Senate health committee’s plan passed along party lines and incited anger among Republicans who say they were left out of the process. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, has been meeting for weeks with a bipartisan team of five other members of his committee to try to come up with a plan that could get Republican support.

The secretive meetings have been frustrating to other Democrats on the committee, particularly when the three Republicans at the table could end up not supporting the proposal. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, was a member of the group until a few weeks ago, when he left over concerns the proposal was going too far to the left.

“My own personal view is that those three Republicans won’t be there to vote for it out of committee when it comes right down to it,” Mr. Rockefeller said, “so that this will have all been a three- or four-month delay game, which is exactly what the Republicans want.”

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and a member of the small group, said he told the caucus that the six are not the decision makers.

“It is very understandable there is frustration,” he told reporters. “One of the things I said is, ‘We’re not the deciders. The six in that room - our job, our responsibility, is to make a proposal to all of you. You’re the deciders. You’re the ones that are going to vote.’ ”

Some Republicans argue that the Finance Committee is the only one that has truly tried to craft a bipartisan bill. Others appear unlikely to vote for any type of compromise plan and have suggested starting the process over.

“It seems to me like, you know, Republicans ought to be at the table,” Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a Republican member of the Finance Committee sextet, told reporters Wednesday. “And Republicans ought to welcome somebody being at the table that is going to do things like the other bills don’t do. Look at the Pelosi bill, and look at the Kennedy bill.”

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