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Finance Democrats Warming to Baucus Negotiations

Senate Finance Committee Democrats, following a meeting Tuesday morning, appeared slightly happier with the direction of ongoing health care reform talks that Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is leading with three of the panel’s Republicans.However, the Democrats who spoke to reporters following the meeting stopped short of offering an endorsement of the deal that appears to be shaping up among the bipartisan gang of six Finance negotiators, which includes Baucus, Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.), GOP Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).“It was actually a good meeting,— Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said. “I told Max — I said: I’m encouraged.’—Senators exiting the meeting indicated that progress had been made on a good share of the outstanding policy items. But they cautioned that some heavy lifting remains on a few of the most contentious proposals, including mandating that employers offer health care insurance to their workers and whether to implement a government or public insurance option.Some optimism was expressed that Finance would be able to at least agree to a legislative framework before adjourning for recess on Aug. 7. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said there is “probably— a consensus on about 80 percent of the package, and he said he expects that gap to close in the next “hours and days.—Still, some Democrats warned that there are several items to hash out before a bill can be unveiled.“I think we’re really making progress,— Kerry said. “And, I feel relatively confident that we’re going to be able to come together around some kind of a bill before we leave here that will be the Finance Committee’s idea of how to approach health care. And whether we get through the markup or not I can’t tell you today. But I’m confident we’ll have a concept on which we’ll agree.—