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The feature story in this week’s Indy looks at how Sen. Max Baucus emerged, somewhat improbably, as the point man on health care reform. Like it or not, whether he’s beholden to big money or not, Montana’s senior senator wields an enormous amount of power as Congress crafts legislation.

The story cuts across day-to-day heath care reform news and its nuances. In the past couple days, though, a few details of the long-awaited Senate Finance Committee bill leaked, shedding a little light on the trajectory of Baucus’ bipartisan negotiations—and sharpening criticism of them.

From Politico:

Bipartisan negotiations on the Senate Finance Committee are moving closer to eliminating two health care provisions favored by many Democrats—a mandate on employers to provide insurance or pay a penalty, and a government insurance option, a senator and health care insiders said Monday.”

“That could bring even greater pressure on Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has been challenged by more liberal senators who say he is sacrificing key Democratic priorities on health care reform to win the votes of a few Republicans.

This bill, written in Baucus’ office, with its map of Montana and photo of Mike Mansfield, is, at the same time, getting slammed for its exclusiveness (only six moderates sit at Baucus’ negotiating table) and praised for its inclusiveness (Baucus is trying harder than anyone to lasso GOP votes).

But Ezra Klien of the Washington Post, for one, wonders how much Baucus' final product will matter, considering that it has to merge with other, more progressive bills—and get support from more progressive senators.

All of which is to say that the Baucus process is attracting an immense amount of interest, but the product may not look a lot like the bill that Congress eventually considers. And the reason is simple enough: Baucus's process doesn't look a lot like Congress. Baucus, Enzi, Snow, Grassley, Bingaman, and Conrad all think of themselves as dealmakers, but right now, they're not cutting a deal on behalf of anyone but themselves.

Our profile of Baucus the deal-maker hit the streets Thursday.

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