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Road Map: Senate Democrats Bank On Obama in August

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has yet to issue language while he continues to court two or three Republicans for a bill to create nonprofit health care cooperatives that would compete with private insurance companies. This week, the HELP panel is set to finalize its three-week markup of their version, which contains an option — supported by Obama and most Democrats — to buy insurance coverage through the federal government.

Baucus is mindful of the necessity of coming out with a bill in the next week or so, sources said. Besides, the White House appears to be getting antsy for the Finance chairman to produce legislation. Before the July Fourth recess, administration officials put pressure on the Montana Democrat to produce his bipartisan bill or start writing a Democratic bill.

To buy more time, Baucus and several Republicans with whom he has been working put out statements the day before the recess pledging to continue their bipartisan quest, one knowledgeable Senate Democratic source said.

Another source said the White House exerted “no more pressure than [the group] had internalized on their own” to find an agreement on the bill.

Even if Baucus produces a bill this week and the stars align for a merger of the Finance and HELP bills before July 20, Republicans said it may be nearly impossible for Democrats to get a health care measure off the floor before the August recess, set to begin Aug. 7.

“It is unrealistic to think you can change 16 percent of our economy in 30 days,” a second senior Senate GOP aide said of Reid’s ambitious plans for the health care debate this month.

Indeed, even Republicans who might support the health care bill are likely to stand against Democrats trying to bring debate on the bill to a close. Though Democrats will have a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, two Democratic Senators have been absent for illnesses and an unknown number may register their opposition to whatever measure hits the floor. That could put the GOP in a position to stop Democrats from completing debate on the legislation, if they chose.

But Reid doesn’t appear to be budging on his timeline yet. On the floor Monday, he promised “a long, hard slog” for July with late evenings, unusual votes on Mondays and Fridays, and even weekend work if needed.

As he prepares to wait for a single health care bill to emerge, Reid said he’d fill the Senate’s time with appropriations bills and the Defense Department authorization measure. He plans to bring up the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor the week of Aug. 3.

Of course, if Reid doesn’t have a health care bill on the floor for those last two weeks in July, it might not be as much of a slog. But it could be the first time in a long time that the Senate spends the long, hot weeks of July dealing with its traditional appropriations work, rather than sweating over the bigger stuff.

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