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Baucus Optimistic Over Bipartisan Health Care Progress

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) emerged Thursday afternoon from a private meeting of key Finance panel negotiators on health care reform and expressed optimism that discussions toward a bipartisan bill remained on track.Baucus said Senators are continuing to review options to deliver legislation that is deficit-neutral, explaining that a renewed emphasis has been placed on developing additional cost-cutting measures in addition to new taxes as a means to pay for the health care overhaul. Earlier Thursday during a full meeting of the Finance panel there was a predictably negative reaction among those on both sides of the aisle to some of the proposed revenue enhancements.“We’re moving the ball forward,” Baucus told reporters. “Everyone wants to find a way to get to ‘yes’ here. That tone hasn’t changed one wit. It’s difficult, but there’s no discouragement.”According to knowledgeable sources, the proposals discussed during Thursday morning’s closed-door meeting of the full Finance Committee included an income-tax surcharge of as high as 5 percent on wealthy earners, a sugar tax and some sort of additional tax on dividend earnings.Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), among the Republicans working with Baucus to try and reach a bipartisan compromise, noted the difficulty in coming to an agreement of any kind that involved taxes. Snowe declined to divulge details from Thursday afternoon’s negotiating session, although she did offer that implementing a value-added tax as a means to pay for health care was off the table.“Anytime you introduce any taxes into the funding methods, it always raises the probability for opposition,” Snowe said. “So you want to be very careful, and frankly you don’t want to tax … unless it’s essential.”In a sign of a potential détente on another divisive issue — whether to implement a government-run insurance option as a part of health care reform — Baucus hinted that Senate Democratic leaders might be softening their position. Disagreement over the government-run insurance option is one of the main obstacles to a bipartisan health care bill.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Thursday that he could envision a nonprofit medical cooperative plan of some sort being acceptable substitute for a government-run insurance option. And Baucus said he believes Reid is now flexible on the issue, a hopeful sign for his goal of drafting a consensus bill.But in discussing his interest in the medical cooperative compromise, Reid did not necessarily sound as though he was giving up on the policy of government involvement. Democrats largely favor the government-run option, while Republicans oppose it.“We’re going to have some type of public option — call it co-op, call it whatever you want,” Reid said. “We’re trying to work something out and have not drawn any lines in the sand.”Snowe conceded that Reid’s take on the issue could present a problem.“If it’s one and the same it would be problematic,” she said.

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