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Baucus: Bipartisan Deal Could Be At Hand

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Monday that there is “high probability— that he will release his health care reform bill Tuesday and that he hopes to simultaneously announce that it will be a bipartisan product.

Regardless of the outcome, Baucus said the bipartisan “gang of six— negotiators continue “working to bring this process to closure over the next week or so as we approach the markup— sometime next week. He added that a bipartisan deal could be at hand “hopefully tomorrow,— but said even if Republicans don’t sign onto the bill when it’s released, he would continue seeking an accord.

“After the [chairman’s] mark’s released, there’s still opportunities to be on the bill, or express support for the bill. Then we’ve got amendments. Then we’ve got markup. I mean, we’ve got all kind of opportunities,— Baucus told reporters following a meeting of the group Monday morning.

Though Baucus appeared confident that a bill would be available Tuesday, aides warned that could slip until Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how negotiations go. Baucus had originally planned to release a bill on Sept. 15 and had set that date as the time he would move forward with a measure — with or without Republican support.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) emerged from the gang of six meeting saying substantial progress had been made on language requiring citizen verification for beneficiaries of the bill. That provision is intended to prevent illegal immigrants from participating in the health care programs created by the measure.

Conrad added that staffers had drafted language to create a federal program that would fund individual states’ efforts to rein in medical malpractice lawsuits. Conrad said the federal program would allow states to “experiment— with different ways to limit such suits.

The group continues to grapple with the costs associated with expanding access to Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income families. The gang is expected to meet Tuesday afternoon with governors to go over its proposal, Conrad said.

Conrad also announced that the bill would cost about $880 billion and be deficit-neutral. The group is expected to meet again Monday afternoon, and Baucus plans to convene a Democrat-only meeting of Finance members early Monday evening.

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