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Baucus Will Not Rush Negotiations Over Health Care Bill

Elmendorf made his statement in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee. Conrad, the panel’s chairman, asked Elmendorf the question that generated the controversial answer, and the North Dakota Democrat told reporters earlier Thursday that he “suspected” what the CBO director’s answer would be when he asked him the question.

Snowe met with Obama at the White House on Thursday and said the two had a good discussion about the pace of the negotiations in the Finance Committee, even discussing specific policies that the panel is chewing on as it seeks to build a consensus and welcoming his suggestions.

But Snowe, who said she believes a bill could pass out of Finance by August, said Obama remained unsympathetic to her concerns about his timetable and was inflexible to softening his demand. Snowe said her preference is to spend August discussing the bill with her constituents and allowing the work to begin on merging the Finance and HELP bills.

“I said that we shouldn’t be constrained by an artificially compressed timeframe, because this is enormously complex,” Snowe said. “I don’t know that he necessarily agreed. His desire is to complete the whole process by the August recess.”

The Finance negotiators indicated that the sticking point to be resolved is how to pay for health care reform in a way that is deficit neutral. In particular, the committee is looking to plug a $320 billion hole in a manner that is politically palatable to both sides of the aisle.

The other major issue to be resolved is whether to implement a government-run insurance option or a nonprofit medical cooperative. The Republicans on Finance have made it clear that they will not vote for a bill that includes a government-run option — or such a proposal masquerading as a co-op.

The Senators on Thursday, while all appearing legitimately buoyed at the prospects of reaching a deal soon enough to have a bill marked up before the break, declined to discuss in any specificity what policies they are considering to bridge the partisan divide over those two issues.

Snowe suggested that Finance has decided to adopt the co-op, but declined to elaborate.

“We are making a lot of progress,” Baucus said.

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