Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Thursday night emerged from a meeting of the gang of six bipartisan health care negotiators to announce that there would be no markup of a bill next week, while stressing that the Senators were committed to seeing the ongoing talks to their conclusion.
Baucus and Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) appeared jointly before reporters to dispel news reports that the negotiations had broken down amid pressure from the Democratic and Republican leadership teams. Baucus said the talks would pick up again next week and continue until the Senate adjourns for the August recess. There would be no meetings this weekend, he said.
It was really a great meeting a very productive meeting, Baucus said. We are committed to finding a bipartisan solution as expeditiously as possible. We talked out the agenda, the issues. ... We are committed to a full session next week every day of next week.
But Baucus added: Its clear there will not be a markup next week. Thats clear. But nevertheless, we are as committed, if not more committed, to find a bipartisan agreement.
After the meeting of the bipartisan Finance Committee negotiators in Baucus Capitol hideaway, the Finance chairman headed to his personal office in the Hart Senate Office Building for a Democrats-only gathering of his committee.
Grassley, meanwhile, denied that he has been pressured by GOP leaders to slow-walk the discussions or purposely refrain from agreeing to a deal. And, he argued, the looming Aug. 7 adjournment date for the summer recess has not affected the negotiations.
We have not been committed to deadlines. Weve been committed to getting a job done, and thats where we are today. Thats where weve been Max and I for five months. And, thats where the six of us have been for the last month, Grassley said, adding: Do we look like weve been pressured?
Grassley blamed the media for suggesting any discord in the talks.
There was some indication at the bottom of one television station that there was some problem with Republicans, Grassley said. And I wanted to make sure there wasnt any problem with Republicans and there isnt any problem. Were working together, three of us here, to get the job done. And, so what youre observing is a continuation of where weve been for doggone long time. The trouble is, you folks are looking for news, and there aint no news.
The gang of six includes Baucus, Grassley, Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) and GOP Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).
Enzi, red-faced and visibly agitated, hurriedly exited the meeting and did not participate in the impromptu news conference, as did the other five Senators. However, he did describe the session as good.
Bingaman said the meeting resulted in a general agreement that we want to do all we can next week to get some of the difficult issues resolved. Thats what everyones committed to.
But Bingaman said he did not expect any push to reach even a framework of a deal by the end of next week. I doubt well try to do that. There was no discussion of it.
Conrad added that the bipartisan group had pledged to continue meeting by video conference if necessary over the August recess.
We have a full schedule next week, a schedule during the August break and an absolute commitment to reaching an agreement, Conrad said.