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Democrats Together on Message, but Still Divided on Health Care

Senate Democrats emerged from a special two-hour health care briefing on Wednesday evening largely unified on their message and up to speed on the party’s proposals. However, they did not appear any closer to resolving differences over several key issues that continue to divide the Conference.Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), a key moderate concerned with some of the Democratic leadership’s plans for health care, at first recited a litany of proposals that can garner the votes of most Democrats. But he also conceded that a few big issues remain.“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that [there are] historic advancements that we all agree we can make, starting with eliminating pre-existing conditions as a reason for people not getting insurance; no lifetime caps, so if you get a catastrophic illness you’re not going to lose your coverage — the insurance company can’t cut you off for a variety of reasons; a significant expansion of Medicaid to help the less fortunate,— Bayh said. “Subsidies for middle-class families so that they can afford individual insurance policies; strong incentives … for small businesses to provide insurance to their employees,— he continued. “Closing the donut hole, so that seniors will no longer face a cliff where they can’t afford their medicines. All those things I strongly support. You’d get 60 votes for those right now.—Asked why a broad agreement among Democrats continues to be elusive, Bayh responded, “Well, you didn’t hear me say how it was going to be paid for, did you?— The Democratic briefing was conducted by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.), who is attempting to steer a group of six negotiators on his committee to a consensus on health care reform, and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.). Dodd, the No. 2 Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led the markup of a health care bill that passed out of his panel on a party-line vote last month.The Democrats on Thursday will get a briefing focused on political messaging by White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.Republicans, who gathered across the hall for their weekly Wednesday health care policy review, exited their meeting in the same boat they’ve been in all month: opposed to the Democrats’ policies and skeptical that the bipartisan Finance negotiators will reach a deal capable of earning broad GOP support.Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and HELP ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), two of the bipartisan negotiators on Finance, have been using the weekly briefings to update the GOP Conference on the state of the talks. Grassley and Enzi were fairly tight-lipped after the meeting, refusing to elaborate on its tenor.Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who has previously met with President Barack Obama to discuss health care reform, said there is no sense yet that the Finance negotiations are headed in a direction that can earn broad Republican support.Enzi and Grassley “told us, basically, that they’re continuing to talk. No agreements have been made, they’re just continuing to discuss, obviously, the various complex issues,— Chambliss said. “At the end of the day, we all want to support something. … They’re nowhere near a point where they can walk in and say, This is what we’ve agreed to’ and expect Republicans to support it. They’re just a long ways from that.—

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