‘Gang Of Six’ Senate Negotiators Heading Home, Will Keep Working During Break
"Senators headed home for their August break Thursday amid an escalating partisan battle over health-care reform, with a small band of lawmakers hoping to keep their delicately negotiated compromise alive," The Washington Post reports.
Senators expressed their concern that the message was being distorted or lost. "Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), a key negotiator, said she was so alarmed about distortions involving the deal being developed by members of the Finance Committee that she urged President Obama during a visit to the White House on Thursday to rebut conservative allegations, 'to lessen the concern' about the emerging legislation."
"Snowe and her two Republican and three Democratic colleagues on the Finance Committee held a final bargaining session Thursday, although the group plans to continue negotiations this month. Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) set a Sept. 15 deadline for his panel to produce a bill, which may be the most viable bipartisan deal on the table as Congress seeks to deliver a final measure to Obama by Christmas" (Murray, 8/7).
Roll Call: "But the group, led by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), reported additional progress toward a consensus health care reform bill, and announced that a tentative schedule has been devised for teleconference meetings during the month ahead. Negotiations might also continue in person over the break, Baucus said. Baucus said the group on Thursday focused on expanding access to health insurance to the poor via Medicaid, which is paid for jointly by Washington and the states. The Senators participated in a conference call with a bipartisan group of about seven governors to get their input" (Drucker, 8/6).
CQ Politics: "Sen. Kent Conrad , D-N.D., said that Obama asked the group of three Democrats and three Republicans how he could help their negotiations, which have dragged on for nearly two months. 'I think the single most important thing he can do is continue to stress how critically important this is for the country,' Conrad said. 'Failure is simply not an option'" (Wayne, 8/6).
Roll Call: "Conrad acknowledged that the meeting included some talk of whether Senate Democrats would - if the bipartisan talks fail to produce an agreement -have to utilize arcane budget rules to prevent any health care bill from being filibustered. That option, Conrad said, is 'not a preferred alternative.' But Baucus indicated he is sticking to his Sept. 15 deadline for having a deal: 'We'll take stock when we get back, and at that point, if things are going great, fine. And if not, then we may have to go in some other direction'" (Pierce, 8/6).
The Washington Times: "Early in the day Mr. Baucus said the group had locked down the financing portion of the bill, which was one of the more contentious portions of the legislation. But late in the day, he backed off that statement, saying the group feels good about where they are but 'we're going to have to come back and look at everything'" (Haberkorn, 8/7).
Reuters has short bios on the "Gang of Six" that includes Baucus, Snowe, and Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Michael Enzi of Wyoming (Frank, 8/6).
In the meantime, a proposed tax on so-called high cost "Cadillac" plans could affect 7 percent of filers, Dow Jones reports. "That is a much larger swath of Americans than has been portrayed by White House officials and congressional Democrats, who have cast it as a tax on 'Cadillac' health plans offered to senior executives. One version under discussion would impose a 35% excise tax, beginning in 2013, on the value of plans above $8,000 for single coverage, or $21,000 for family coverage. The tax would be paid by insurers, or by employers if the plan is self-funded by the employer offering it" (Vaughan, 8/6).
Also, "President Barack Obama may accept nonprofit health-insurance cooperatives in place of a new government-run plan as long as consumers are guaranteed more choice and competition in buying insurance, a top aide said," Bloomberg reports. "'We would be interested in that' if those conditions are met, Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television's 'Conversations with Judy Woodruff' airing today. DeParle said she expected Congress to pass health-care legislation on a bipartisan vote 'around Thanksgiving'" (Chen, 8/7).
Despite the squabbling over details, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg says that reform is inevitable, NPR reports. "'I'm presuming something will pass,' Gregg tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer in an interview for Friday's Morning Edition. The president has invested his 'status on public policy' in getting legislation through, Gregg explains, 'and he has supermajorities in the House and the Senate' to get the job done" (Hensley, 8/6).
Politico reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, "downplayed" the chances that Senators would use budget reconciliation to hammer through a bill if it gets stuck on Republican or centrist Democratic votes: "'We don't want to use reconciliation unless we have to. I hope we don't have to.' Still, using reconciliation rules to pass a health care bill is an appealing option for Democrats. Because of language added to their budget resolution last spring, Democrats can attempt to pass a health care bill under fast-track budget rules that limit debate and allow the bill to pass with a simple majority - rather than 60 votes needed to break a filibuster" (Raju, 8/6).
CBS News: Grassley told a radio station Wednesday that "Congress must 'change things in a way so that the government doesn't run our health care,' Grassley said, 'because in countries that have government-run health care, just to give you an example, I've been told that the brain tumor that Sen. Kennedy has - because he's 77 years old - would not be treated the way it's treated in the United States. In other words, he would not get the care that he gets here because of his age. ... It's a little like people saying, in a sense, when somebody gets to be 85 their life is worth less than when you're 35, and you pull the tubes on them'" (Condon, 8/6).