Finance Committee Negotiators Near Accord On Bill

The Washington Post: "Three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee are expected to wrap up their arduous multi-week talks in the coming days, and Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects a panel vote before the Senate recess, which will begin Aug. 7. Assuming the fragile committee coalition holds, the legislation it produces would scramble the reform landscape by introducing policy ideas that have their origins in the political center. The bill is bound to disappoint liberals."

"The finance panel's legislation is expected to include incentives for employers to provide health insurance for their workers, rather than a more punitive coverage mandate. The committee is also likely to endorse narrowly targeted tax increases, rejecting a controversial tax surcharge on wealthy households that the House adopted and limits on deductions for upper-income taxpayers that Obama is seeking" (Murray and Kane, 7/29).

NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewed Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who discussed the bipartisan negotiations: "We have made great progress. Every day we make progress. Will we get it done by this weekend? .... We're restructuring one-sixth of the economy, we think it ought to be done right." (Morning Edition, 7/29).

Senators negotiating in the Finance Committee are close to reaching a deal that would save $35 billion in Medicare spending during the next decade by assigning an independent commission to examine changes, The Associated Press reports, quoting sources.

"Under the plan, an independent commission would be empowered to recommend changes in Medicare annually, to take effect automatically unless Congress enacted an alternative. In addition to saving money, the proposal is aimed at turning the program for those age 65 and over into one that more clearly rewards quality, officials said. The commission would be required to recommend $35 billion in savings over a decade from Medicare" (Espo and Werner, 7/28).

Roll Call: "Senate Finance Committee Democrats, following a meeting Tuesday morning, appeared slightly happier with the direction of ongoing health care reform talks that (Baucus) is leading with three of the panel’s Republicans. … 'It was actually a good meeting,' Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said. 'I told Max — I said: I'm encouraged'"(Drucker, 7/28).

Bloomberg: "Democratic Senator Max Baucus, leading the talks among six Democrats and Republicans on the finance committee, said they made progress and will meet again today. … 'We reached an agreement on a couple of very key points,' Baucus told reporters after meeting with the other senators" (Litvan and Dodge, 7/29).

The Hill: "Senators need 60 votes to advance the legislation and many say the burden of resolving the healthcare dispute in their chamber will rest with (Reid), setting up arguably the most difficult decision of his career. Reid, who has already moved the floor debate to the fall, said Tuesday that Senate Democrats will spend 'many hours' in a series of meetings next week to seek some sort of consensus" (Bolton and Young, 7/28).

Politico has more on Reid's role in uniting the Finance Committee with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee: "It's a risky and unusual role for a majority leader who — unlike his Democratic predecessor, Tom Daschle — prides himself in taking a hands-off approach and giving his committee barons wide latitude to do their work. If Reid can bring together the sparring factions of his own caucus, he may get the credit for being the critical negotiator who made health care reform possible. But if he can't — if the bill moves too far to the right or too far to the left or just doesn't move at all — Reid could be blamed for missing a may-never-come-again chance to vastly expand coverage" (Raju, 7/29). 

The Hill reports in a second story: "Reid stepped out to defend Baucus at a mid-afternoon press conference, but avoided details. Asked if he was confident that a bill will reach the Senate floor by the time the recess begins on Aug. 7, Reid simply said, 'Yes'" (Rushing, 7/28).

The Associated Press in a second story: "But the recess will be no vacation for the forces at work on health care, least of all Reid and Baucus. A message war will ensue, with Republicans demanding a rewrite and Democrats calling for patience. Aides will spend the summer break toiling over how to marry the Finance Committee bill with elements of less viable proposals turned out by other panels." At some point, Obama and congressional Democrats will decide whether compromising towards the center is the best strategy for passage or too risky in terms of losing support from the party's liberal base. "The next 10 days are pivotal. The onus to deliver is on Baucus and Reid" (Kellman, 7/29).

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