I'll have more to say on Max Baucus's health care announcement tonight or tomorrow.  (Boy, did I pick the wrong day to spend out of the office reporting!) Quickly, though, I want to highlight one key development.

In the full paper, Baucus says it will take three to four years before we'd get to universal coverage. But that doesn't mean he wants to delay working on a bill. Here's what Carol Guthrie, spokesperson for the Democratic staff at the Finance Committee, just told me:

Senator Baucus would like to move a comprehensive reform bill in 2009. He’ll work with his colleagues on a precise timeline, however, for movement of legislation and implementation of reform. In the “Call to Action,” the reforms he envisions would be phased in over a period of years--some immediate, to help many uninsured Americans get some coverage right away, and some over two or three years, as insurance market reforms take effect and a marketplace can be created where folks can easily compare and buy a plan that works for them.

Translation: He'll get working on a bill early in the year, as reported here previously. Whether that means passing something in the first few months or later on depends entirely on how the politics of this issue shapes up.

Again, if you care about universal coverage, this is good news. Kevin Drum thinks there's an 80 percent likelihood we'll get universal coverage by summer's end. That sounds rather optimistic to me, but I agree the odds are looking better and better.

P.S. If you can't wait a few hours for your fix of health care coverage, I recommend Ezra Klein's postings here and here. Steve Benen has more thoughts here

--Jonathan Cohn