Senator Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is poised to play a leading role on health care reform, says that he wants any bill to overhaul the health care system to receive 70 votes in the Senate.
Speaking at the White House fiscal responsibility summit on Monday, the Montana Democrat told his fellow members of Congress during a break-out session that he was "very excited" about the prospects of health care reform.
"It has to bicameral and bipartisan," he added. "My first preference is 60, maybe 70 votes, when it is all said and done."
While Baucus stressed the vote count, other Senators were focused on the timeline. According to the pool report of the meeting, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, said that he wanted a bill to be passed through the Senate by Memorial Day. Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander agreed that health care needed to be tackled in the near-term.
Should the Senate be able to pull off that feat -- a health care overhaul with bipartisan support by late May -- it would constitute a major legislative victory for both Democrats in Congress and the administration, which is heavily invested in health care reform.
The task, of course, won't be easy. While there may be an agreed-upon imperative for action, the areas of focus aren't so synchronized and the suggested solutions are of some dispute. Both Alexander and Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) offered support for the Wyden-Bennett health care bill, which would require the majority of citizens to enroll in a private insurance plan made available through newly created state pools. Employer-based covered would be reduced over time as the country approached near-universal coverage.
Rep. George Miller (D-CA), meanwhile, said he favored a single-payer system and urged his colleagues to focus on preventative measures. He was joined on this topic by fellow Californian Rep. Barbara Lee. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," said the Democrat. "If the focus is on prevention and public health, we will save."
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) warned about too dramatic an overhaul. "We have to keep in mind that 70 percent of people have health insurance and they like what they got and will be upset if we change what they are doing," he said.
Sen. Arlen Specter said that some attention should be placed on eliminating fraud, which could save costs. The Pennsylvania Republican then offered the lightest moment of an otherwise wonky discussion. Speaking about the power of lifestyle changes to affect health, he said he once contemplated giving up martinis. "I was elated," he added, "when I found it didn't make any difference."
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