US Senator Max Baucus won no Republican support Wednesday as he unveiled his much-vaunted health reform bill, making an impassioned plea for Congress to pass legislation for future generations.
After months of bipartisan talks failed to win Republican backing for his 856-billion-dollar bill, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said lawmakers were morally bound to pass the reforms.
"Now is our opportunity, this is our moment, to help fulfill that moral obligation for our kids and our grandkids, to have something better than we now have."
"There are millions of Americans today who have lousy health insurance, pre-existing conditions, denial based on health status, no limit on out-of-pocket costs or recisions (cutbacks). Companies put limits on coverage, you know, how many dollars they'll pay out," the senator said.
"We're stopping all of that. Just think of that for a moment. That's so important. And that's why I do think at the end of the day we're going to get significant bipartisan support and we're going to pass this."
For more than three months Baucus has led a six-member panel of senators, three from each party, in ongoing talks to find an elusive bipartisan compromise on health care reform.
His 10-year plan did not include a "public option," a taxpayer-funded alternative to private heath care insurance that is a key wish of liberal Democrats but hated by big-government-fearing conservatives.
The Baucus proposals broadly mirrored those set out by President Barack Obama a week ago in his keynote speech to Congress on health care.
They included provisions that all Americans would be required to purchase health care or face a fine if they do not, and that insurance companies would be barred from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.
Republicans are jumping on the cost of Obama's reforms, which the president claims can be made up in savings, and stoking fears that the mooted public option would result in a government takeover of the health care system.
Senator Charles Grassley, the lead Republican on the Baucus panel, attacked the Democratic leadership for trying to rush through the proposals and said he could not support the bill as it stood.
"I'm disappointed because it looks like we're being pushed aside by the Democratic leadership so the Senate can move forward on a bill that, up to this point, does not meet the shared goals for affordable, accessible health coverage that we set forth when this process began."
His sentiments were echoed by fellow panel member and Republican Senator Mike Enzi who said he was "deeply disappointed that we could not take the time to find ways to resolve these issues."
Another member of the panel, Olympia Snowe -- considered the most likely Republican senator to swing behind the Baucus bill -- was hopeful the situation could still change.
"This is a first step in the process," she said, adding that the so-called "bipartisan Group of 6" would continue working "toward crafting a bill that I, and hopefully other Republican members of the finance committee, can support."
The committee is scheduled to vote on the Baucus bill next week. It could then go to a full vote or be blended with legislation from another Senate committee.
If the Senate and the House, where three key committees have already approved another version of the legislation, pass different bills, they must be reconciled before going to Obama's desk to be signed into law.
Observers said the Baucus proposals could be aimed as much at shoring up the support of conservative-minded Democrats in the House of Representatives as at the more tricky prospect of winning over Republicans in the Senate.
They drew a warm response from those so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats in the House but got the deep freeze from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said they fell far short of the House version of the health care overhaul.
"As this proposal evolves, we hope to see modifications that result in the Senate bill better reflecting the work of the House," she said. "I believe the public option is the best way to achieve that goal."