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Senate Republicans Demand Two Months of Debate on Health Care Bill

Democratic negotiations to merge two competing Senate health care bills got under way Wednesday, with Republicans characterizing the talks as backroom dealing and demanding two months of floor time to debate the final legislation.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), speaking to reporters just before heading his office to begin talks to meld the health care reform bills approved by the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panels, implored the GOP to join with the Democrats to overhaul the nation’s health care system. But he dismissed remarks made moments earlier by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who insisted that whatever bill emerges be given more floor time than the four weeks accorded a recent agriculture bill. The quality of the final bill, Reid said, is more important than the quantity of time allowed the debate.“I believe that the Republican leader and all of his colleagues, with the exception of couple there — one of whom is Sen. [Olympia] Snowe and there are a couple others — want to do anything that they can do not to have a bill,— Reid said. “The length of the debate is going to be one where there will be sufficient time.—“People are going to have an ample opportunity,— Reid continued, “as they did with the HELP bill, to read it and understand it, as they did with the Finance bill, to read it, understand it — understand how much it costs. The same will happen with the bill we eventually bring to the floor.—Reid, along with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), HELP’s No. 2 Democrat, then headed into the Majority Leader’s office, to a waiting White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, to begin the merger negotiations. Reid declined to discuss how the talks might go, although he conceded they could be challenging and would require input from President Barack Obama.If Reid were to honor McConnell’s demand for a lengthy debate, it would be highly unlikely that a final Senate vote could occur by year’s end, as Obama has requested. Republicans are already criticizing the Democratic leadership’s as-yet unwritten package, based on their opposition to the major components of the legislation approved by Finance and HELP. McConnell said the GOP will “insist— that the final bill receive an accurate Congressional Budget Office score and be posted on the Internet for 72 hours before it is debated for the American people to read.“We know what the core of the bill will be,— McConnell said. “It will be higher premiums, higher taxes and cuts in Medicare. That’s not health care reform.—

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