Members of the “Gang of Six”—three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee—hold outsize power over the fate of health care reform as they try to fashion a bipartisan bill that will pass both houses. These lawmakers are moderates in their parties, and most are known for their ability to craft innovative compromises. They are led by Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking Republican member Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
The other four are:
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine
Olympia Snowe is one of the last of a dying breed: the Northeastern Republican. She is a pragmatic Republican—a social moderate and fiscal conservative—who represents a state that went Democratic in the last five presidential elections. Snowe could be one Republican who crosses party lines to support the Democrats but only if she gets some sweeteners—probably related to small business—in the bill.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has been a deficit hawk for many years, but his drive to control spending is tempered by his desire to work with Republicans and Democrats alike for social programs. He was one of 11 Democratic senators to vote for the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill. Conrad is the principal proponent of health care co-ops as an alternative to a government-run insurance option. He says the co-ops would help drive down costs.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
Mike Enzi, the most conservative member of the gang, wants to block what he deems undesirable provisions in the emerging health care plan. Enzi has told his constituents that this is his role in the group. He explains his work in shaping reform legislation this way: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” In the past, Enzi, an accountant by training, has favored market-oriented solutions to health care.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
Usually mild-mannered and soft-spoken, Jeff Bingaman can get passionate about health care—once calling access to affordable care a “human right.” This lawmaker is adept at manipulating the Senate’s rules, and he did that this year to protect heath care reform. If bipartisan negotiations fail, he favors using an arcane procedural move called “reconciliation,” which limits amendments and discussion and makes it easier to shut off debate, to pass a Democratic version of health care. Bingaman, however, has a practical side. He wants a government-run insurance option; but if that can’t pass the Senate, he says he might support another option