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Finance Talks Still On Track

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Finance Chairman Max Baucus says the war of words between President Barack Obama and Hill Republicans will not impede bipartisan health care negotiations.

Bipartisan negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee vowed Tuesday to continue pressing for a deal on health care reform, insisting that the escalating war of words between President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans will not derail their efforts.

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) both said that no matter how heated the partisan exchanges, they are making progress and would not be rushed into putting out a bill. The Finance negotiators met throughout the day Tuesday.

“I don’t think that has much of an effect, because Republicans here very much want to reach an agreement,” Baucus said Tuesday when asked if Obama’s decision to target the GOP would negatively affect the Finance Committee talks. “I won’t say they’ve crossed the Rubicon, but they certainly want an agreement.”

Three Republican Finance Members have been huddling with three of the committee’s Democrats, led by Baucus, to reach a bipartisan deal on health care. The negotiators are hoping to arrive at a consensus before the August recess, which begins for the Senate on Aug. 7.

Grassley, who is leading the GOP in the talks, appeared to support Baucus’ assessment, saying that he is as committed to the process as ever. But Grassley was critical of Obama’s latest round of attacks against the GOP on health care reform.

And Grassley charged that Obama isn’t limiting his attacks to just Republicans.

“I talked to a Democratic Congressman — not from Iowa — over the weekend, and the president said [to this Democrat], ‘You’re going to destroy my presidency.’ Now, this isn’t about President Obama,” Grassley said, adding: “Is this impeding our work? No, it’s not. What’s slowing the progress is how complicated these issues are.”

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), among the six Finance negotiators, agreed that the escalated political warfare would not persuade them to leave the negotiating table. Snowe, who has pushed back against Obama’s request that the Senate pass a health package by the recess, appeared particularly unfazed by the recent uptick in partisanship.

“We’re going to continue to do our work irrespective of the conversations and the statements and speeches that are made outside this arena,” Snowe said. “I think it’s to be expected, frankly, on both sides. But the key for us is to stay focused here on what we need to do.”

Conrad deemed Tuesday an “extraordinarily” good day and suggested that negotiators were in the final stages of reaching an agreement. Still, Conrad cautioned that significant decisions remained.

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