Senator Jay Rockefeller, speaking Tuesday afternoon on a conference call co-sponsored with the Campaign for America's Future:
I have sat besides Max Baucus for 22 years on the Finance Committee. ... I'm probably one of his best friend among Democrats. But I cannot agree with him on this bill. ... There is no way in present form I will vote for it. Therefore, I will not vote for it unless it changes during the amendment process by vast amounts.
Rockefeller cited four main concerns: The lack of a public insurance option, changes to Medicaid, changes to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and overall affordability provisions. He did caution that he reserved the right to change judgments once the final bill comes out, although it's unlikely that bill will look much different than what Baucus has already released.
Later in the call, Rockefeller suggested four to six Demorats on the Finance Committee had similar feelings, although he didn't say (and may not know) whether they feel as strongly as he does.
A bit of background:
A little over a month ago, right before the August recess, I spoke with Rockefeller at some length. And he was clearly wrestling with how to position himself.
No living senator has done as much to promote health reform as he has. It's the cause of his life and, for the first time, the goal is within reach. He admitted that voting against a package, even a flawed one, was difficult to imagine.
But Rockefeller also made clear his frustration with the compromises Baucus was making, whether it was replacing the public plan with a co-op or gradually reducing the subsidies to help people pay for insurance. He was particularly incensed about the changes to Medicaid and CHIP, programs to which he's devoted much of his time--and on which many West Virginians rely.
At the time, it seemed like Rockefeller was still on board, if only to help get a bill out of the Finance Committee and onto the Senate floor. But you got the feeling--well, I got the feeling--that he was near the breaking point.
Sometime since that interview, clearly, he's hit it.
What happens next? The big question is whether other Democrats on Finance side with Rockefeller and whether, together, they can win changes to the bill that won't alienate more more conservative members. Would a bill with greater subsidies, insurance protections, and, say, a trigger be enough to satisfy Rockefeller? If so, would it be too much for Republican Olympia Snowe--or Democrat Kent Conrad?
And, if not, what happens next? If the choice is a bill like the Baucus proposal or none at all, would Rockefeller and others really vote against it? And, if so, could they win passage of a better package--through the reconciliation process, if necessary?
Those aren't rhetorical questions. I honestly don't know the answers.