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Reid Sings New Tune on Health Care Bipartisanship

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday continued to try to reach a consensus on health care reform, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) doing an about-face and saying that he supports the panel’s efforts to strike a deal. During the weekly Senate Democratic leadership news conference, Reid voiced support for the work being done in Finance — a stark contrast from where he stood earlier in the week. On Tuesday, Reid urged Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to rein in his pursuit of GOP support for a package for fear it would cost too many Democratic votes.But on Thursday, Reid, who has long been a close ally of Baucus, was effusive in his praise for the Finance Committee’s work.“They just had a bipartisan meeting,— Reid said in reference to the Thursday morning closed-door meeting of the full Finance Committee. “They’ve accomplished so much.—Earlier this week, after conferring with his leadership team, Reid had strongly urged Baucus to adjust his strategy and prioritize Democratic policy proposals in the Finance health care overhaul, including a robust government-run insurance option. Reid also had communicated to Baucus that taxing health benefits is a nonstarter for most Democrats and that the proposal should be dropped.But on Wednesday, Reid met with four key Finance Republicans — ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — to assure them he was committed to a bipartisan deal. The Republicans who met with Reid emerged from the meeting reassured, and they indicated the Majority Leader was flexible on a chief concern of theirs: the push for a Senate vote on a bill before the August recess.On Thursday, Reid reaffirmed that he is committed to the August deadline, although he didn’t directly dispute what the four Republicans said a day earlier. Given Reid’s support for the Finance negotiations and the fact that the panel has yet to begin the markup of its bill, it is appearing increasingly unlikely that leaders will be able to push legislation across the finish line before the chamber adjourns on Aug. 7.“We are keeping our timeline,— Reid insisted. “We’ve outlined what we’re going to do, to the very best of our ability this work period, and I think we can accomplish that.—Meanwhile, a closed-door meeting of the full Finance panel adjourned late Thursday morning with participants declining to comment on what was discussed. But key Senators indicated that reaching an agreement on how to pay for health care reform remains slow-going.“I’m trying to figure out a way to tell you something different than I told you yesterday,— said Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a Finance member and integral player in the negotiations.Thursday morning’s meeting was held specifically to discuss the various pay-for options. Democrats and Republicans still differ over the government-run insurance component, although Reid suggested there is an effort to reach a compromise on Conrad’s original proposal to create a nonprofit medical cooperative in place of the government-run option.The Democrats tend to be in favor the public plan option, while Republicans are opposed. A bipartisan group of Finance members is set to convene again Thursday afternoon to continue their negotiations.“We’re ready when we’re ready,— Baucus said earlier in the day, reprising one of his most often-used lines to describe the committee’s progress. “We’re also a lot closer than we’ve been because right now Senators want to look at a greater variety of proposals.—