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Democrats Hope Recess Recharges Their Agenda

But the Senate will likely have plenty of time to contemplate whether they can move forward on health care, given no bill is likely to make an appearance on the Senate floor until the end of September at the earliest. The source of most of the angst over health care in the Senate — a bipartisan group of six Finance Committee members – have agreed to try to meet a Sept. 15 deadline to hammer out a compromise bill. If they don’t, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is leading the negotiations, has essentially conceded that Democratic leaders will attempt to pass a partisan bill using arcane budget rules, known as reconciliation, to prevent any health care measure from being filibustered.Even if the six Finance negotiators reach a deal, that measure will still have to undergo a tricky merger with the HELP Committee bill, which was passed on a party-line vote. GOP Finance negotiators — ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.) — have been trying to get Reid to agree to preserve whatever agreement they devise when he merges the two measures, but liberal Democrats have been counting on the HELP bill to trump Finance provisions with which they disagree. The HELP bill would create a public health insurance plan, while the Finance talks have centered around establishing a government-sponsored, nonprofit health insurance cooperative system to compete with private insurers in the same way a public plan would.While Senators bide their time in September waiting for the health care dust to settle into a workable plan, Reid said Thursday he hopes to complete four more of the 12 annual spending bills. The Senate has already passed four. The statutory deadline for completion of appropriations measures is Sept.30 — the end of the fiscal year — and Congress will almost certainly have to pass a short-term, stopgap spending bill to keep some government agencies funded until a permanent measure can be enacted.Meanwhile, Reid has set a Sept. 28 deadline for six Senate committees to complete work on a climate change bill that may or may not include a controversial cap-and-trade system for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. In June, the House narrowly passed a cap-and-trade bill, an indication that getting a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate may be nearly impossible, some Democratic aides have suggested.Indeed, Senators and Democratic aides have warned that the climate debate promises to fracture the party even more than talks over health care have this summer. But that is not expected to come to the floor until after consideration of a health care measure — a scenario that could mean the global warming fight won’t be in full force until late October or November. But lest anyone think Congress will wrap up by Thanksgiving, Democrats have been warning for months that sleigh bells will be ringing before they wrap up for the year.Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) in July predicted what leaders have tacitly acknowledged: “Congress is going to be in session until Christmas Eve.”

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