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Baucus: Removing Health Care Deadline Should Help Process

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Thursday evening that Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to not push for a full Senate vote on health care reform before the August recess makes it somewhat easier for the gang of six bipartisan negotiators on his committee to reach a deal.“I think it’s helping a little because this is so complicated and Senators want to feel comfortable with what they’re doing,— Baucus told reporters after a more than four-hour meeting with his five counterparts in the Finance Committee’s gang of six bipartisan negotiators. Reid earlier Thursday made official what many in the Senate had suspected for weeks, saying definitively that there will not be a vote on health care reform legislation before Aug. 7, when Senators are scheduled to adjourn for their monthlong recess. Reid and Baucus are scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama on Friday at the White House.Baucus described Thursday’s discussions as productive and positive. He declined to elaborate or provide any policy specifics, but he said the group met with Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf and an official from the Joint Taxation Committee, adding that the six Senators in the group also met alone for part of the time, without any staff in the room.The gang includes Baucus and Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) as well as GOP Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa). Baucus said a majority of today’s talks involved whether the proposed provisions in the Finance Committee’s bill would consistently lower health care costs in future years — commonly referred to as “bending the cost curve— down.“It was very, very productive, because we, among other things, want to be sure that when we do come up with a proposal, that that is the result,— Baucus said.Conrad said today’s negotiations were “very intense.— He said the bipartisan negotiators are awaiting additional estimates on various proposals they are considering as a part of the Finance Committee’s health care reform bill, and cautioned that the process continues to “take time.—“By far the most important thing is that we get this right,— Conrad said. “But I feel very good about the progress that’s being made.—The gang of six was not scheduled to meet again Thursday evening. Whether there is a session on Friday appears to depend on the Senate’s voting schedule.