Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Baucus Presses for Health Deal

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Chuck Grassley, seen Wednesday outside the Senate, said he was encouraged after meeting with Majority Leader Harry Reid on health care legislation.

Reid came away from his meeting with four Finance Republicans — ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) — with a sense that they were prepared to abandon the idea of taxing health care benefits, one senior Senate Democratic aide said. A GOP aide also said Republicans are not necessarily wedded to the idea.

Reid’s meeting with the GOP Senators appeared at odds with the revelation that he had strongly urged Baucus to get on board with the majority of the Democratic caucus by putting a public option into his bill and giving up the idea of taxing benefits. Reid’s directive to Baucus was widely seen as a push to eliminate negotiations with Republicans altogether, given their staunch opposition to a public plan and their preference for paying for health care reforms by taxing health insurance benefits.

Democratic aides said Reid met with the four to smooth any ruffled feathers, gauge their seriousness about supporting an overhaul of health care and find out what elements they could support once a bill makes it to the Senate floor.

“It was a very constructive meeting, and bipartisan talks are going to continue — and not continue under a very hard timeline,” Grassley said afterward. “And I think that’s very good progress coming from the meeting we just had.”

Grassley said Reid assured Republicans that news reports suggesting he was not interested in working with them “weren’t entirely accurate.”

The senior Senate Democratic aide said the Republicans’ comments about Reid indefinitely extending his July 20 deadline for health care to hit the floor “were a little too strong.” Reid remains committed to passing a bill out of the Senate by the August recess, the aide said.

Enzi expressed doubt about whether Reid would really give Baucus enough time to craft a bipartisan deal. “I don’t know,” he said when asked whether Democratic leaders were just posturing on their deadlines or whether they would allow time for reaching a bipartisan deal.

Democratic sources said Democratic leaders still do not see Republican support for health care reform as sustainable in the long run — even if Baucus succeeds in persuading a handful to back the bill that he ultimately pushes through his panel. That calculation played heavily into Reid’s decision Tuesday to encourage Baucus to abandon efforts that were sure to cause more Democrats to drop off the proposal and make it harder for the Senate to pass anything.

One Democratic Senator said leaders are focused on unifying the majority party.

“The question now is, how do we get the Democrats,” the Senator said.

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