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Baucus: Close to a Deal

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Wednesday that his bipartisan group of health care negotiators is close to an agreement on a reform bill that would cost around $900 billion over 10 years, be deficit-neutral and insure 95 percent of Americans by 2015.

Baucus, emerging from a closed-door morning meeting of the six-Member negotiating group, declined to provide additional specifics as he rushed to the Senate floor for a vote. Additionally, Baucus refused to predict when a deal might be announced. Further meetings are scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, including another Democrats-only meeting of the Finance Committee.

“OK, we have some good news. Last night we received a preliminary report from the Congressional Budget Office. CBO has reviewed a draft of the health care reform bill we are currently negotiating,— Baucus told reporters, reading from prepared remarks. “Keep in mind the draft does not include resolution of several key issues. Nevertheless, the report is encouraging.—

Baucus said the CBO has scored the bill as reducing the federal deficit “by several billion dollars— in the 10th year, would result in increased health insurance coverage via employers and would not create a situation that would cause companies to drop health benefits. Baucus has led bipartisan negotiations among six Finance members, including himself and Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (N.M) and Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa).

It remains unclear how this deal is being received by the remaining Democratic and Republican members on Finance.

Conrad said earlier Wednesday that two of the main issues left to resolve include how to avoid saddling the states with the cost of increasing access to Medicaid, as well as matters relating to health care affordability.

“If I had to describe the two or three things that I think are most challenging, one is the affordability question for people who have insurance offered to them at their place of employment, but it’s insurance they can’t afford. That is a significant concern,— Conrad said Wednesday. “Second would be Medicaid and the expansion of Medicaid and what the reaction of governors would be to additional state requirements. I think those are two of the most vexing issues left to be resolved.—

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