Map of: who’s who of health care reform

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California are driving the debate on health care reform, but each Democrat relies on a cast of supporting actors, Politico reports.

Reid, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) have played outsize roles in shaping the legislation to this point, and they are likely to maintain their influence by managing the legislation on the floor later this month. In the House, Pelosi showed she could corral her disparate caucus and position Democrats to pass a bill as early as next week.

And that supporting cast:


Health care reform's key players, beyond the top tier. (Matt Wuerker illustration)

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.). Schumer is a liberal, Carper is a moderate. As the public option neared death, these two quietly pushed alternate proposals giving states their own public-option options, to give life to the cause.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). A member of the Senate health committee, he co-wrote with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) the public insurance option that Reid placed into the merged Senate bill. Brown — who often puts the White House on blast for conflicting statements re: reform — has established himself as the go-to voice for the progressive side of the scale.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). The focus of a Senate whip count on health care. He’s a conservative in a liberal-leaning caucus, a Democrat from a Republican state who’s more concerned about cost than coverage. He’ll likely be a holdout until the very end, making Reid and Obama work hard for his vote.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). One of the endangered 2010 class of incumbents, a Democrat up for reelection being asked to cast politically difficult votes on what could be a partisan bill. Reid will keep her close as he moves the bill through the Senate, hoping to minimize her exposure while still getting what he needs.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The bipartisan? She voted for the bill after months in the Finance Committee negotiations, and was essentially cast aside. Snowe doesn’t support a government-sponsored public option and appeared personally disappointed at Reid’s decision to include it rather than her idea for a “trigger” that would create one only if the private market failed to expand coverage. Carper is already working on an alternative to the opt-out public option aimed at winning centrists like Snowe if Reid’s opt-out strategy comes up short of 60 votes.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The latest wild card, he pledged last week to vote against any bill with a government insurance option. It was a reminder that any single senator has the power to cast passage of health care legislation into doubt.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The unsung hero. The Maryland Democrat advises party moderates and voices their positions at the leadership table. He helped broker a critical truce between Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee and its chairman, California Rep. Henry Waxman, after the talks devolved into an angry impasse, threatening the fate of the broader bill.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman. A famously tough negotiator whose stubbornness, wit and intellect, coupled with a top-notch staff and the advantages of jurisdiction, helped him craft the bulk of the House bill. He has frustrated colleagues with his reluctance to give ground on just about anything, but also was willing to bow to political pressure when a bloc of moderates on his committee forced him to swallow changes he fought against. This tough California Dem will soften when the cause is at stake.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Pelosi gave enormous responsibility to this longtime ally by tapping him to broker a hard-fought compromise over Medicare’s controversial reimbursement rates. The divide pit largely Western and farm state Democrats, who waved the flag of fiscal responsibility, against their more urban counterparts (Becerra) who asserted costs are higher in poor communities because of the prevalence of emergency care and bad health conditions.

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.). The co-chairman and co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are largely credited with keeping the public option debate alive in both chambers, emboldening their speaker and advocates of the public option in the Senate. Accepting the reality that the more “robust” plan lacks the votes to be enacted, they remain a powerful bulwark for Pelosi in her negotiations with the Senate over the final form of a public plan and the amount of subsidies set aside for lower-income Americans. Expect Woolsey and Grijalva to sound the affordability alarm if the final bill doesn’t go far enough.

Scroll the full Politico biographies here.


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