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Finance Committee Wraps Up for the Day; Health Vote Before Recess Unlikely

The six bipartisan negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee adjourned for the night Wednesday, with Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) noting progress toward a consensus deal but acknowledging that a bill is unlikely to emerge from his panel in time to allow for a health care floor vote before the August recess.

Meanwhile, Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) briefed the Senate Republican Conference on Wednesday afternoon with a progress report on the status of the negotiations. According to a source with knowledge of the briefing, Grassley emphasized that several issues remain to be resolved and that no deal is in place.

Baucus said that he spoke with President Barack Obama earlier today and that Obama was pleased with the progress being made in Finance and supportive of his efforts. Baucus said he and the president discussed a time line for his committee to complete its work but declined to divulge the specifics of what he told Obama or the president’s reaction.

“I would love to get this concluded fairly quickly. I can’t guarantee it will be,— Baucus told reporters. “Obviously, with each passing day … it gets a little more difficult.—

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), a participant in the talks, added: “The important thing that I think everybody agrees on is that we’ve got to get it right. Time isn’t the real factor on this thing. If we’ve got it right, the American people will like it. If we get it wrong, America will never recover.—

The bipartisan Finance negotiators met twice Wednesday for two lengthy sessions described as productive and informative. Potential changes to Medicaid and ways to cut program costs were featured topics, according to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), another key player and one of the six negotiators.

With negotiations dragging on longer than originally anticipated — Baucus had originally planned to mark up the bill in late June — both Republicans and Democrats in the group on Wednesday noted the difficulty of drafting a bill so big that it could equal as many as 10 fairly large pieces of legislation.

“What people don’t understand, there are 10 different parts on anybody’s bill. Each one of those probably ought to be a separate bill — they’re that complicated, probably 500 pages worth in each of those 10 areas. We’re trying to do it in a 1,000-page bill,— Enzi said. “My experience with comprehensive is, there’s usually enough confusion [with] the different parts, that it doesn’t work.—

Enzi said a looming cloud over the bipartisan Finance negotiations is what happens to the deal that they reach after the panel’s bill gets merged with the partisan bill that was marked up in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where the Wyoming Republican serves as ranking member.

What happens to the Senate bill in a conference committee with the House is also a major concern for Republicans who insist they want a health care reform bill that they can vote for.

Enzi said he has been given no assurances by the Democrats that the Finance bill will survive the merger or the conference report in a recognizable fashion.

“That’s a huge concern,— he said. “If all we’re doing is figuring out how to pay for it — the policy we’re talking about isn’t going to count — and we have to go to something as liberal as the HELP Committee, or as I understand the House has, I don’t think America will settle for it.—