Senators Remain Skeptical of Baucus’s Plan

Tuesday both Democrats and Republicans remained skeptical of a plan to change the nation's health care system despite a push by a key architect of the legislation Tuesday to boost benefits for middle-class families.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, offered the changes to build support for his bill, but the frosty response underscored the challenge he faces as the measure slogs toward a vote by his committee this week.

"The time has come to have the courage to take on this daunting task," Baucus said as the finance panel began the first in a series of hearings on the bill after months of behind-the-scenes talks failed to produce a bipartisan compromise.

Democrats on the committee called the measure a good start, but Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia added that he nonetheless has "serious concerns." Republicans continued to object to its cost and scope. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said the bill is a "stunning assault on our liberty," USA Today reports.

It was also reported, Democrats and Republicans formed clear battle lines as the Senate Finance Committee opened a high-stakes debate on health-care legislation proposed last week by the panel's chairman.

Both sides found plenty to criticize in Sen. Max Baucus's bill, particularly its requirement that all U.S. citizens must buy health insurance at potentially high costs.

Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), a member of the panel and the Senate's No. 2 Republican, called the measure "a stunning assault on liberty" that would lead to higher taxes and less consumer choice.

But Baucus (D-Mont.) defended his work and urged his colleagues to "do our part to make quality, affordable health care available to all Americans."

"Our actions here this week will determine whether we are courageous and skillful enough to seize the opportunity to change things for the better," he said in his opening statement, The Washington Post reports.

The Washington Post quoted Baucus as saying, "We're not Canada, we're not Britain, we're not America, we are the United States."

Baucus is suffering the consequences of being one of the last serious men in town. President Obama is on Letterman, Barney Frank is on Leno, and Tom DeLay is on "Dancing With the Stars." Even Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, shed his usual reputation for grown-up behavior Tuesday as he howled about the "utterly and completely appalling" actions of Senate Democratic leaders and the White House.

Grassley acknowledged that Baucus had built "an environment in this committee for bipartisanship and collegial work" -- a reference to daily bipartisan negotiations for three months in Baucus's office -- but he protested that "artificial deadlines" ended the talks, The Washington Post reports.

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