Senate Finance Negotiators Wrap for the Day

Posted July 21, 2009 at 6:06pm

Senate Finance Committee negotiators adjourned for the evening, calling Tuesday a productive day of talks that brought significant progress toward a health care reform deal.

Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he had an “amicable— telephone conversation with President Barack Obama, during which he said they discussed some of the Finance negotiators’ proposals. Baucus said the issue of deadlines and timelines for reaching an agreement did not arise.

“I spoke to the president today and gave him a progress report,— Baucus told reporters. “He didn’t express a view on [deadlines] one way or the other, nor did he apply it. He just asked how we’re coming along. And, I told him, and he seemed encouraged.—

The bipartisan group of six Finance members — three Democrats (including Baucus) and three Republicans — met twice on Tuesday, and is set to reconvene on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Baucus said headway is being made on a deal for how to pay for health care reform, considered among the most contentious issues. Baucus’ counterparts in the group agreed Tuesday that significant progress is being made.

The Senators generally declined to elaborate on the state of the talks. But Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), among the six negotiators, said earlier Tuesday that items the group was working on include penalties the government would charge individuals who do not purchase health insurance, and similar penalties that might be imposed on businesses that do not provide coverage to employees.

Additionally, it appears as though Finance is reconsidering taxing top-tier health insurance benefits as regular income. Now described as a “premiums tax,— this proposal involves taxing only the most expensive health care benefits — those packages worth $25,000 or more a year — which Conrad said accounts for only about 1 percent of packages offered to employees.