Washington Sketch: Senate Democrats Spar With One Another During Health-Care Debate

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let the fratricide begin!

Michael Moore, in town for the premiere of his new movie, stopped by a rally at the offices of Public Citizen on Tuesday to deliver a stark warning to any congressional Democrats who would dare oppose a government-run insurance plan as part of health-care legislation.

"I and a lot of other people have every intention of removing you from Congress in the next election if you stand in the way of health-care legislation that the people want," the beefy filmmaker roared. "We will come to your districts, and we will work against you, first in the primary, and if we have to, in the general election. . . . You think we're going to go along with you just because you're Democrats? You should think again!"

As it happens, Senate Democrats were across town at that very moment defying Moore. Sen. Max Baucus, a Montanan not susceptible to Moore's charm, was leading an effort to exclude the public option from the health-care legislation.

"My job is to put together a bill that gets 60 votes," the Finance Committee chairman said. "Now, I can count, and no one has been able to show me how we can count up to 60 votes with a public option in the bill. . . . I fear that if this provision is in the bill as it comes out of this committee, it will jeopardize real, meaningful, health-care reform."

The panel held a vote: Baucus, 15; Moore, 8. Later, another vote on another version of a public option was held: Baucus, 13; Moore, 10. Sorry, Michael, but Baucus won't be up for reelection until 2014.

Democrats on the Finance Committee, for the most part, couched their differences in polite exchanges. But there was no disguising the raw schism the bill has created among Democrats.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), sponsor of one of the public option proposals, was discussing the House version of the legislation when Baucus interrupted him. "Let me just split hairs here, Senator, but to be accurate there is no House bill," the chairman said.

"I understand," Rockefeller went on, "but in the parlance of Congress, they passed out some --"

"No, they didn't."

Seconds later, Baucus interrupted Rockefeller again, this time over the pronunciation of the name of a committee aide, Yvette Fontenot.

"We pronounce your last name in very different ways," Baucus said to the aide, requesting the correct pronunciation.

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