STILL KICKING

Signs of Life for Gang of Six

All eyes are on the Senate Finance Committee this week, where a comprehensive plan floated by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is making the rounds in the bipartisan Gang of Six that's been slowly negotiating legislation. Baucus has pledged to advance a bill with or without Republican support, and hopes for an agreement with any GOP senator beyond blue-stater Olympia Snowe (R-ME) have typically been regarded by observers as all but dead. Nonetheless, the other Republican members of the gang are offering detailed critiques of the Baucus plan, suggesting that talks might still have life yet. The biggest disputes are over the cost, with Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) trying to lower its price tag to significantly below the president's $900 billion request. They also are trying to include language barring the use of private insurance subsidies to pay for abortions and more explicit restrictions on both legal and illegal immigrants' receiving health care subsidies. Despite their list of objections, none of them cut into the basic framework of the proposal, which includes a universal mandate, a health-insurance exchange, and money to help poor and middle class Americans afford coverage.