Max in the Driver’s Seat

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I got the same impression from the President’s speech as the New York Times’ David Herzenhorn did:

From a policy standpoint, Mr. Obama’s speech strongly affirmed that Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who has led the only effort to fashion a bipartisan compromise on health care, is in the driver’s seat.

Mr. Obama’s address strongly embraced many aspects of the plan that Mr. Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has developed over months of intense negotiations, and that he is still struggling to bring to completion.

On point after point, Mr. Obama endorsed the major components of the Baucus plan, including new fees on the most expensive health insurance plans.

And Mr. Obama sent a strong signal that he could accept a compromise on the contentious proposal to create a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, an idea that is heavily supported by Democrats in the House but has little chance of passing the Senate.

In his speech, Mr. Obama mentioned both the alternate idea of creating private, nonprofit insurance cooperatives, which is part of the Baucus plan, and the possibility of a government-run plan being triggered only if the legislation fails to provide affordable insurance for a sufficient number of Americans, an idea strongly supported by Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine and a lead negotiator on the Finance Committee.

Mr. Obama also promised that the health care bill would cost about $900 billion over 10 years, and would not add to the deficit. Mr. Baucus believes the latest version of his plan will cost about $880 billion, with the cost fully covered by cuts in government spending or new taxes.

Aides to Mr. Baucus were thrilled by the president’s remarks. “Sounds like he’s bowling in our alley,” said one, who asked not to be identified.

Then again, bowling is not exactly Obama’s best sport–though they say he’s getting better at it.