- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Senate Finance Committee chairman said Friday that he expects to have health care overhaul legislation ready “soon,” as President Obama spends some vacation time reaching out to liberal Democrats concerned about the public insurance option.

The six negotiating members of the panel, now dubbed the “bipartisan six,” met for their second teleconference over the recess on Friday in a meeting Chairman Max Baucus called “productive. Mr. Baucus, who did not announce any tangible agreements from the meeting, said the group plans to continue face-to-face discussions Tuesday when lawmakers return to Washington.

“We addressed a number of issues at hand and the next steps moving forward,” said Mr. Baucus, Montana Democrat, in a statement. “I am committed to getting health care reform done - done soon and done right.”

Mr. Baucus said before the August recess that he will have legislation ready by Sept. 15 and signaled he would act whether or not he has crafted a deal with Republicans on the panel. But some took President Obama’s plan to issue a rare speech to a joint session of Congress - scheduled for six days before that deadline - as a sign that the White House was no longer willing to wait.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, said the group will continue negotiations.

“When Congress returns to session next week, we will be working with the same intensity we’ve brought to bear this year to achieve a consensus bill, as I believe we must reduce the costs of health care and make coverage more affordable for all Americans,” she said.

The group of six, which also includes Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad and Jeff Bingaman and Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley and Michael B. Enzi, had been meeting for weeks prior, trying to come up with a bipartisan agreement that could win broad support on the panel and in the entire Senate.

The Finance Committee is the last of five panels to release and approve a health care overhaul bill.

Democrats seem to have all but given up hope the panel can come to a compromise. Liberals in particular have strongly said they won’t support any plan without a robust public insurance option - a provision not likely to be included in the group’s plan, if they are successful in crafting one.

To that end, Mr. Obama held a conference call with leaders of the congressional Progressive, Black, Asian Pacific American and Hispanic caucuses Friday.

The group re-emphasized their interest in the public option and Mr. Obama planned to meet with them again next week when Congress resumes its session, according to a statement from Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat and co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus.

Interest groups are also gearing up for lawmakers’ return to Washington. Advocacy and trade organizations, such as AARP and the American Nurses Association, are preparing lobbying efforts as the reform debate reaches a fevered pitch.

The Democratic National Committee on Friday released a new television ad targeting Republicans who, according to the group, have opposed Medicare. It’s targeted at 10 lawmakers, including House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.

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