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Obama Strategizes on Health Bill With Baucus, Dodd

President Barack Obama met with key Senate health care negotiators Thursday, pressing them to move as swiftly as possible to reconcile their bill with the House package and get him something he can sign into law, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Joining Obama at the White House were Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). Dodd steered a bill through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel last year while its then-chairman, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), was ailing. HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (D) participated via telephone from Iowa. White House staff also took part in the meeting.

Baucus and Dodd each issued statements citing progress at the meeting.

“We are in the final stages of this process, and at today’s meeting, we made significant progress. Senators Reid, Baucus and I are proud of the bill we passed in the Senate — and we are grateful for the President’s leadership in working with us and House leaders to ensure that the final product finally realizes our long-held goal of making stable, quality, and affordable care available to every American,— Dodd said.

“Tonight we had a positive and productive meeting with President Obama. For nearly two years now in the Senate, we have been working to deliver health care reform that provides the quality affordable health care choices and consumer protections Americans need while [reining] in the skyrocketing health care costs that threaten our economic stability, and we have produced a bill that does just that. … We look forward to continued work with the President, Leader Reid and our colleagues in the House to get this done,— Baucus said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have decided to forgo a conference committee as they work to reconcile the $871 billion Senate bill with the $1.2 trillion House package — a move backed by Obama.

Obama has been taking a more active role in the negotiations, speaking directly with lawmakers and staging the talks at the White House. Obama met with House leaders Wednesday and held a meeting with the top Democratic Congressional leaders on Tuesday.

Democratic leaders hope to complete the process prior to Obama’s State of the Union address, which usually occurs in late January or early February.

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