How Senate Finance Committee Got Ron Wyden's Vote

Baucus nods to Free Choice Amendment when bills merge

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October 13, 2009 -- If you'd asked me six months ago which Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee would prove the toughest vote on health-care reform, I'd have had a couple answers for you. Blanche Lincoln, maybe. Or Tom Carper. Or Kent Conrad.

I would not have said Ron Wyden.

But it was Wyden's support that eluded the Senate Finance Committee and the White House in the final days. The reasons were twofold: First, it's always easier to bargain with a dealmaker than a policy wonk. Wyden wanted something real, and maybe even a bit radical, added to the bill. He wanted not only all employers, but all individuals, given access to the exchanges. He wanted to give individuals the option to move beyond the employer-based system, but that wasn't very popular, given that preserving the employer-based system was among the central premises of health-care reform.

Second, he was mishandled. His amendment wasn't scored until the last minute, and then at 1 in the morning on the final night of the mark-up, Sen. Kent Conrad waved his blackberry in the air and told Wyden his amendment had never really been scored at all. It's a bit hard to say what happened there, but it looked, and felt, like a dirty trick to Wyden's camp.


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