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Conrad Says No Deadline for Health Talks

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), perhaps creating another wrinkle in the bipartisan health care negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee, insisted Sunday that there is no deadline for the talks to conclude or be abandoned — putting him in direct conflict with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).Baucus said just before the August recess began that Sept. 15 — one week after Congress returns from the break — is the deadline for the gang of six negotiations to yield a deal or be pushed aside in favor of partisan Democratic approach. But Conrad said over the weekend that in fact no deadline has been set, echoing much of what participants in the bipartisan talks had said throughout July and early August when they were pressed for answers as to how long the discussions might last.“What we have agreed to is that we are going to be ready when we’re ready. And we are working; we hope to be able to reach conclusion by the middle of September. But we have agreed that if we still don’t have all of the answers back from [the Congressional Budget Office] that we will not be bound by any deadline that the most important thing is to get this right,— Conrad, the Senate Budget chairman, said on “Fox News Sunday.—“This affects every American person,— he added. “It affects one-sixth of the American economy. This is not something that should be held hostage to any specific deadline.—Conrad, Baucus and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) are attempting to negotiate a bipartisan health care bill with three Republicans — Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine). The discussions began in June and carried on through July and into early August. The group plans to meet at least twice this month via videoconference, with an in-person session possible.Baucus had originally set late June as the deadline to complete a markup of the Finance Committee health care bill. But that date was repeatedly pushed back as the Finance negotiators were unable to agree to a consensus bill and members of the Democratic and Republicans conferences objected to several policy elements of a proposed deal.When Baucus first announced just before the August recess that he will consider partisan options for moving a health care reform bill out of his committee if a deal isn’t reached by Sept. 15, the deadline was presented as something that was agreed to by all six Finance negotiators. But Grassley said last week while traveling in his home state for town-hall meetings that the Republicans in the group never signed on to any such agreement.President Barack Obama has asked that a health care bill land on his desk by Oct. 15.

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