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Finance Members Settle In for a Long Slog on Health Care Bill

After morning fireworks, Senate Finance Committee members on Wednesday settled down and began methodically working through the more than 500 amendments that have been filed on the panel’s $900 billion health care reform bill.The Finance Committee adjourned for Senators’ dinner plans just before 6:30 p.m. but was scheduled to reconvene at 8 p.m. to take up more amendments. Baucus said he planned to go late into the evening.At the current pace, Baucus said it remained unclear if he could finish the markup by week’s end, as he had originally hoped. The Finance chairman said he is trying to accommodate the desire of Senators to have a full and fair debate on each amendment, but he signaled he has little patience for stalling tactics.“I’m not going to get into delays,— Baucus said.The first two-plus hours of the day were spent debating a transparency amendment proposed by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.). But by around 6 p.m. Wednesday evening, Finance had voted on nearly a dozen more, with controversies centering more on committee process and less on policy.Baucus, in his effort to keep the process on track, occasionally rankled some Republicans with his efforts to speed things up. In a brief interview during a break in the markup earlier Wednesday, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said part of Baucus’ duty as Finance chairman was to ensure that all committee members were given ample time to debate each amendment.“If you get too impatient, it can appear as if you’re not willing to give everyone their fair opportunity to comment,— Kyl said. “He’s trying to move the bill along. It can get very frustrating for a chairman because everybody wants to talk, and he’s trying to move it along. But a chairman has to be careful. Every Senator in there is equal to every other Senator, and you’ve got to give every Senator the opportunity to say what he or she wants to say.—At one point, Baucus argued with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) over the necessity of his amendment proposing that any Medicare savings generated by the Finance bill must remain in the program.But after learning that Ensign’s amendment would have no budgetary effect on his bill, Baucus changed his mind and urged that the amendment be adopted — a decision that ended that debate and kept the markup moving. Ensign’s amendment passed with 21 “yes— votes; two Democrats abstained.Baucus’ desire to speed the process along was evident throughout the day Wednesday, with the Finance chairman saying that his goal is to “just keep plowing through — keep moving.—

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