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Finance Democrats Eyeing Markup Next Week

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) expects the Finance Committee to begin marking up its health care reform bill sometime next week, although he still doubts a bill will pass out of the Senate before Congress adjourns for the August recess.

Conrad, a key member of Finance, said clearing a bill off the floor in the next few weeks will be difficult given the ongoing Supreme Court confirmation process of Sonia Sotomayor and the pending merger of the forthcoming Finance bill with a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee measure.

“I think we’ll be in mark up in the Finance Committee next week,— Conrad told reporters Tuesday, following the weekly Democratic Conference lunch. “Then the question is, putting the bills together from [HELP] and Finance. I just don’t know the timing of that.—

Baucus is aiming to deliver a bipartisan bill; the HELP bill leans to the liberal side and has been roundly rejected by that committee’s Republicans. Accordingly, many Senators are predicting a politically tricky and possibly time-consuming merger of the two bills.

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) declined to affirm or reject Conrad’s prediction that markup of the panel’s health care legislation would begin next week. Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Monday that Baucus wants to unveil a bill on Thursday and begin marking it up next week.

Finance Republicans were doubtful Tuesday afternoon that the panel can reach a deal by week’s end, as is Baucus’ goal. But the Finance chairman said Tuesday that he is optimistic a bipartisan agreement is near.

“We’re going to pass very significant, meaningful health care reform this year,— Baucus said.

Another meeting of bipartisan Finance negotiators is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Baucus’ office. More Finance Committee meetings are also set for Wednesday.