Baucus Suggests Negotiations Nearing End

Posted September 11, 2009 at 11:45am

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) indicated Friday that the bipartisan health care negotiations in his committee could be headed into their final week — with or without a deal on a bill — but stopped short of announcing a definitive end date for the talks.

Baucus, following a morning meeting of the bipartisan group of six Finance negotiators, reiterated his intention to introduce a health care bill in committee next week, allowing for markup to begin the week of Sept. 21. While the talks would effectively end after Baucus offers up his bill, a bipartisan deal could still emerge in the markup stage.

“We had a very good meeting today,— Baucus told reporters following the one-hour session. “Monday we’ll meet in the hopes of reaching resolution. But again it’s understood that we have to start making some decisions.—

A Democratic Senate source told Roll Call on Wednesday that Baucus would drop his bill on Tuesday, which was the date he had set in early August for the bipartisan talks to bear fruit. Baucus said Friday he would put out his bill out early next week.

The gang’s Republicans this week expressed their commitment to continue negotiating on a bipartisan bill. But they did not sound optimistic when asked if all six Senators in the group could reach an agreement prior to Baucus’ formally introducing his bill.

Friday’s meeting focused on the cost of reform, particularly how to pay to expand access to Medicaid, how much the federal government will cover and how much the states will pay for. The group plans to discuss its proposal with various governors when it meets again Monday.

“We just had another extended session. It went very well,— Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said.

Conrad said the group hopes to reach “closure— on Monday on the issues of Medicaid expansion, medical malpractice and a proposal that would make clear that the Finance bill would not allow federal funds to be used to pay for abortions.

Only Baucus and Conrad made it a point to speak to reporters following the meeting. Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) participated in the meeting via telephone from Iowa.

The other members of the group are Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).