Bipartisan senators still trying on health reform

Six senators on the Senate Finance panel will resume their talks on healthcare reform with a teleconference on Thursday.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced the meeting on Wednesday, and presented it as an effort to dispel reports that Democrats don't want a bipartisan bill this fall.

Baucus sent out a release that “reaffirmed his commitment” to a bipartisan bill, as evidenced by the teleconference at 9 p.m. EST on Thursday.

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“Bipartisan progress continues,” Baucus said. “The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate. Our group will be meeting tomorrow and our staffs continue to meet as well. I am confident we will continue our steady progress toward health care reform that will lower costs and provide quality, affordable coverage to all Americans.”

Baucus also said the group “plans to meet again before the Senate returns to session in September.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs rebutted a New York Times story Wednesday morning that quoted Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggesting that Democrats may abandon bipartisanship efforts. Emanuel told the Times that GOP leaders have “made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.”
 
The news prompted Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, to issue his own statement saying that a bipartisan bill remains possible. The Iowa senator has been sharply critical of Democratic efforts, prompting some in Congress to question whether he would ever support a bill.

“Something as big and important as health care legislation should have broad-based support. So far, no one has developed that kind of support, either in Congress or at the White House,” Grassley said. “That doesn’t mean we should quit. It means we should keep working until we can put something together that gets that widespread support.”

Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) suggested to reporters on Tuesday that Republicans still have inherent objections to any Democratic-led health reform bill because the effort is philosophically wrong. In a conference call that signaled a difficult road for a bipartisan bill, Kyl said abandoning a public insurance option wouldn’t necessarily win GOP support because Republicans still want more tort reform, tax breaks and fewer restrictions on employers.

Kyl said Democrats “don't start from the right place.”

"Instead of targeting solutions to specific problems and having a less ambitious, less costly premise, they start with a premise that we've got to overhaul the whole system of healthcare delivery and insurance,” he said. “We don't have to scrap a system that generally works quite well for almost everybody, but doesn't work well for a few people. We need to find targeted solutions for those people and those entities rather than jeopardizing what everybody has by imposing a new Washington regulatory scheme."