Near Post-mortem for the Gang of Six/Seven

by Bruce Webb

(Update Sept 9. This post generated some heated objections from one or more people who thought it libelous. I don’t agree but have been urged to make the following point:

My posts on AB represent my own opinions and judgements and do not necessarily represent those of any other front page posters or the siteowner. There is no pre-publication review process at AB currently, if a post seems to cross a line the responsibility is with the front page poster, in this case me)

The Gang of Six is on life-support. Baucus released something unilaterally yesterday which suggests he is asking for buy-in to the plan or not in advance of a meeting Tuesday between Reid, Pelosi and Obama and the Wednesday night speech to a joint session of Congress. But before we pull the plug on the Gang I want to take a little time to show how artificial it all was, because you can be certain people will be up in arms about how the ‘bipartisan process’ was bull-rushed by Obama.

Our first hint of ‘bipartisanship’ came when Baucus announced he could not work off the basis of the HELP Bill but would start from scratch in Finance. Now the other four Committees mostly worked on the bill as a whole but Baucus thought it better to have a working group that originally totaled seven. Now there were three ways of devising this group that would respect Senate seniority rules and the party split. In a 60-40 Senate the closest split of seven is 4 to 3.

Update: This piece is an op-ed and not to be construed as ‘reporting’ as suggested by a reader…it is one interpretation of events during a very controversial time…rdan

Baucus could have just appointed the top seven of the whole Committee, this would have left a Gang looking like this:
D: Baucus, Rockefeller, Conrad, Bingaman to R: Grassley, Hatch, Snowe

Or he could have just appointed the top seven of the Sub-Committee on Health Care which would have produced this:
D: Rockefeller, Bingaman, Kerry, Lincoln R: Hatch, Snowe, Ensign

Since it doesn’t make much sense to craft a group that excludes both your Committee Chair and Ranking Member, it would have been natural for Baucus to create a blended group of leadership plus the top five on the Health Sub-Committee:
D: Baucus, Rockefeller, Bingaman, Kerry R: Grassley, Hatch Snowe

Any of these lineups would seem to meet the criteria for bipartisanship. In each case you have two conservative R’s and one moderate, all with reputations for deal-making. One model one the D side breaks down as three centrists and one liberal, one models two and three you have two liberals and two centrists. There should have been no trouble finding a bill acceptable to five or six of them, that is you might lose Ensign at one end or Kerry or Rockefeller at the other, but what came out would represent a consensus reflective of the whole Senate.

But Baucus did not choose any route that reflected a 60 – 40 split or respected seniority at all, instead he went originally with this Gang of Seven:
D: Baucus, Conrad, Bingaman R:Grassley, Hatch, Snowe, Enzi

Now not only do we have a 3 to 4 split in favor of the minority, the ideological breakdown is three conservatives to four moderates. There is only one logical explanation for Baucus’s move. He simply decided to side-line the Chairman of the Finance Committee Sub-Committee on Health, i.e. Rockefeller and liberals generally.

There was nothing bi-partisan or pertaining to regular order in creation of the Gang of Seven, now reduced to a Gang of Six. It was a naked power grab that has now apparently gone bad. No one should regret the passing of the Gang that Couldn’t Legislate Straight, they were never really legitimate to start with.