Rangel: Democrats 'close' to agreement on paying for health bill

Democrats are "close" enough to an agreement on how to pay for a healthcare bill that they're shooting for sending language to congressional number-crunchers on Friday, House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.

"We're close," Rangel said about an agreement on how to raise revenue for the roughly $900 billion health reform bill.

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Rangel, who's been involved in bicameral discussions led by President Barack Obama, would not say what tax structure had been agreed upon, only affirming that it was a combination of various, competing House and Senate tax proposals — with the possibility that new ideas have also been worked in to offset the political and revenue tradeoffs in the dealmaking.

Rangel said congressional leaders will send to the Congressional Budget Office "whatever the president would want," a further indication that Obama has been deeply involved in brokering a compromise.

The tax portion of the new bill could be ready by Friday, Rangel said, and he further said that Friday is the goal Democrats are still working toward.

Additional House Democrats confirmed that significant headway had been made on the tax issue, with some saying they've been told that a deal had been struck with labor groups to raise the excise tax threshold to a level that would allay union concerns that their members would be subject to an unfair tax on hard-fought health insurance plans.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Thursday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had moments ago told her that a deal had been made with labor groups on the excise tax.

"This just shows you that unions really do still matter," Woolsey said.

Democratic leaders themselves, though, would not confirm anything about a tax agreement, or whether labor groups had signed off on anything.

"That wasn't true a few hours ago," said Rep. SandyLevin (D-Mich.), a key labor ally.

Levin and other liberal Democrats have fought the excise tax for reasons beyond its impact on workers with collective bargaining rights, and have warned that any excise tax is a "non-starter" in the House.

A source familiar with the discussions confirmed that a tentative deal has been reached on the excise tax. The Associated Press reported that the White House reached a tentative agreement with union leaders early Thursday to tax high-cost insurance plans, a deal that would be presented to senior lawmakers later in the day.

Whether to tax so-called Cadillac health insurance plans, as the Senate proposed, or to tax the income of top earners, which is the House position, has in recent weeks emerged as one the most significant gaps between the House and the Senate.

This story was updated at 12:25 p.m.

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