Senate Dems Wrestle over Health Care Plan

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WASHINGTON -- Health care reform took a step forward in Washington on Wednesday, but lost the support of several lawmakers in the process.

Senate Democrats are holding a meeting Thursday to let members air their concerns in hopes of reaching a consensus.

When Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, took the podium to announce his health care bill, he was alone.

After months of negotiating with Republicans, not one stood beside him.

"I fully believe, as I've said many times, at the end of the day there's going to be Republican support for this bill," Baucus said.

But lack of Republican support isn't what has Senate leaders concerned. It's Democrats railing against the plan.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., says the Baucus plan would equal a "big, big tax on the middle class," including "virtually every single coal miner" in his state.

After that, President Barack Obama met with Rockefeller privately.

"I was alone with the president and you don't breach that confidence," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller calls a tax hike "dangerous."

Starting in 2013, the Baucus plan would impose a 35 percent excise tax on insurance companies for "high cost plans."

Congressional budget experts estimate that the proposal would reduce the number of uninsured by 29 million and trim the deficit by $49 billion over the next decade.

But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says it doesn't pass the smell test.

"Under the draft proposals certainly some significant number of middle class folks could end up paying more," Wyden said.

Senate Democrats are holding a meeting Thursday to let members air their concerns in hopes of reaching a consensus.

Since the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Democrats control 59 seats in the Senate.

That means they'll still need at least one Republican to join them to pass a plan -- unless they use a procedural shortcut that lets them pass the bill with just 51 votes.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the Republican most likely to back the plan hasn't supported it yet, but is still talking to Democrats.

Other potential allies: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. But they also have reservations.

It's also unclear how or even if the Senate plan can be reconciled with legislation moving through the House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, praised Sen. Baucus, but quickly added the House bill was more desirable.

As much as President Obama needs lawmakers on board, he needs the public's support.

After a health care rally at the University of Maryland on Thursday, he'll take his push to the airwaves, appearing on all of the Sunday talk shows except Fox News Sunday. And on Monday -- an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.