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Baucus Tells Democrats of Plan to Advance Health Bill

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told a Democrats-only meeting of his committee Wednesday that he plans to begin marking up a health care reform bill the week of Sept. 20, with or without a bipartisan deal in place. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Baucus informed his Democratic Finance colleagues that he would move forward next week regardless of whether the gang of six bipartisan Finance negotiators brokers a deal.A Democratic Senate source said Baucus would lay down the mark on Tuesday, the Sept. 15 deadline the chairman set for a deal with the gang on a bipartisan plan. This source said that as of now no Republicans are on board with the framework for reform that Baucus has proposed.“He [made] clear in the meeting that this is the time for action and time to move forward to get a bill done by the end of the year,— the source said.Deadlines have been a touchy subject with Democratic and Republican members of the bipartisan group since the talks began — and Wednesday was no different. Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), one of the negotiators, chaffed at the suggestion that Wednesday was a make-or-break day for the gang to reach a deal. Baucus was hoping for an accord before President Barack Obama’s evening address to a joint session of Congress.“We’ll be done when we’re done. We’re making progress; the bipartisan effort has been very constructive. And I know there has been a strain of reporting that that’s all dead. It’s not dead,— Conrad said, on his way into the Democrats-only Finance meeting. “We wouldn’t have spent two and a half hours yesterday if that were dead. That’s very much alive, and we’re trying very hard to reach a conclusion to bring people together.—“I’ve been through hundreds of hours here. There was never a deadline of today,— Conrad continued. “We had discussions about Sept. 15 as a time to reach conclusion on whether the conversation would continue or we would fish or cut bait. Today is not Sept. 15.—The gang of six, which comprises three Democrats and three Republicans, have been negotiating since June. The talks appeared on thin ice as the Senate adjourned for the August recess, and conditions haven’t looked much better since Members returned to work this week.Baucus on Tuesday instructed the bipartisan negotiators to forward to him any counterproposals to his health reform framework by 10 a.m. Wednesday. The group is scheduled to hold another session Wednesday afternoon at 3:30, just hours before Obama’s speech.

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