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Town Hall Debates Hang Over Senate Negotiators

Senate Finance Committee negotiators are scheduled this evening to meet via teleconference to continue their efforts to craft a bipartisan health care reform bill, with the Senators’ interaction with constituents over the August recess expected to be a major topic of discussion.Sources familiar with the agenda said all six of the Finance negotiators are scheduled to participate in the 9 p.m. conference call, as are staff members. The Senators have asked staff for specific recommendations on certain aspects of health care reform, and presentations are expected.However, the negotiators — three Democrats and three Republicans — are expected to spend a significant amount of time comparing notes on town hall meetings they have held since the recess began Aug. 7. The Senators have not held a negotiating session since Aug. 6 and in the meantime have gotten an earful from constituents regarding the direction of health care reform.“I suspect Members will recount their experiences from— the past few weeks, one source said Thursday.The negotiators include Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) and GOP Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).On Wednesday, Baucus and Grassley released separate prepared statements saying they are committed to producing a bipartisan health care reform bill.This week, the White House and some Democrats have signaled an interest in abandoning bipartisan negotiations in favor of a partisan approach to getting health care reform enacted this year, believing that Republicans have no interest in compromise. However, the GOP contends otherwise, and President Barack Obama continues to insist that he wants to work with the minority on Capitol Hill.

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