Obama and Montana's Baucus: Who needs whom?
The president visited the senator's home state Friday, even as Baucus works to get GOP support for healthcare reform. Both men are being blasted from the left and the right.
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Of Baucus, Obama said only: "I want to thank Senator Max Baucus for his hard work on a bill as chair of the Finance Committee – and for his commitment to getting this done."Skip to next paragraph
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Both men have been pounded relentlessly by the far left for not embracing a so-called single payer approach to universal healthcare (in which the government takes the place of private insurers). The president’s alternative – offering the public the option of choosing a government-run insurance plan – has been characterized as a socialist ruse by the far right.
Baucus, who was first elected to the Senate in 1978, won a sixth term last fall with almost 73 percent of the vote – a huge margin that suggests Montanans are in no way dissatisfied with him.
Still, critics are suggesting that Baucus is captive to the interests of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, because of the campaign contributions he has received from those industries while insisting that the single-payer approach is neither feasible nor practical. He was one of the few Democrats during the Bush administration to side with Republicans on tax issues and on a prescription-drug law that most in his party condemned.
Whether Baucus can deliver bipartisan support for healthcare reform – and what compromises will be made with the liberal wing of his party to do so – will become clearer when Congress returns from recess in the fall. Meanwhile, some Montanans doubt whether he can pull it off and say a party-line vote may be inevitable.
“I don’t see the president or Senator Baucus achieving much bipartisan support on healthcare,” says political scientist Jerry Calvert from Montana State University. “I think they are pursuing an illusion. If the Democrats really want reform, they are going to have to stiffen up and just get it done.”
Besides healthcare, Baucus also figures prominently in another politically seismic issue for Obama: The administration’s desire to create a cap and trade market for carbon dioxide, to slow climate change.
Baucus, for his part, seems not to be cowed by the harsh rhetoric surrounding the healthcare issue. Earlier this week, when caught between boisterous groups of competing protesters as he showed up for a healthcare forum, he didn't take evasive action, recounts Rick Meis, founder of Montanans for Single Payer.
“He waded right into the middle of the Tea Baggers. They were shouting at him and screaming bloody murder. But here was one of the most powerful men on Capitol Hill, listening,” says Mr. Meis. “He’s not going to make any headway with people who accuse him and Obama of being socialists, but he took them on anyway.”
Meis is critical of both Baucus and Obama for staking out more moderate positions on healthcare. Yet he senses that if healthcare reform isn’t passed and signed this fall, it could become derailed for the rest of Obama’s term.
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