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Time to act on health care, Dem negotiator says

RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The Senate’s chief Democratic negotiator on a health care bill is indicating it’s time to act and has told his colleagues he won’t wait much longer for a Republican compromise.

“I am committed to getting health care reform done – done soon and done right,” Montana Sen. Max Baucus said in a statement. He is considering making a formal proposal soon to the small group of Senate negotiators who call themselves the “Bipartisan Six.”

Baucus held a nearly two-hour teleconference on Friday with the other five negotiators from his committee. The group has struggled for months to come up with an acceptable bipartisan bill.



While careful to leave the door open to a long-sought deal, Baucus clearly signaled the time has come for him to move ahead.

President Barack Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday to boost health care reform, a key element of his ambitious domestic agenda.



The president, meanwhile, is trying to placate some unhappy House members who fear he’s too eager to compromise with Republicans and conservative Democrats to get a bill.

In a call from Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Maryland, Obama spoke to leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other liberal-leaning House groups.

The caucus leader, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said the lawmakers expressed their commitment to creation of a government-run plan to compete with private health insurers. On Thursday, they sent Obama a letter saying they could not support a health bill that lacked such a public option.



Woolsey said Obama listened, asked questions and said discussions should continue. She said a follow-up meeting will occur next week at the White House. Another participant said the president was noncommittal about the government-run plan.

The Senate Finance Committee is the only one of five congressional committees with jurisdiction over health care that has yet to produce a bill.

On Friday, Baucus said the members of his group agree on several big-picture items, including the need to control costs, provide access to affordable coverage for all Americans and ensure that health care fixes don’t add to the deficit. The negotiators have been working on a pared-back bill that would cost under $1 trillion over 10 years and drop contentious components, such as the government-sponsored insurance plan that liberals insist must be in the legislation.

But with Republican leaders solidly opposed to Obama’s approach, the GOP negotiators are under tremendous pressure not to cooperate. In the last few weeks, two GOP negotiators – Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming – have made harsh public statements about the Democrats’ approach.

The third Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine, has been circumspect.

The other two members of the group are Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

In the GOP’s weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee underscored his party’s resolve to fight an overhaul of the health care system.

“It’s time to press the ‘reset’ button,” said Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who wants Congress to toss out the Democrats’ health care plans in favor of more modest changes in medical coverage.

Kline said the Democratic legislative proposals amount to “a government takeover that threatens American jobs.”

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On the Net:

GOP address: http://www.youtube.com/RepublicanConference


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