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Top Senators working with the White House to merge rival health care bills reported no breakthroughs after a first day of talks but promised that “failure is not an option.”
The congressional front of US President Barack Obama’s historic fight to remake health care has moved behind closed doors as his Democratic allies seek a consensus bill before final votes in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hosted talks with top White House aides including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, as well as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Senator Christopher Dodd, who shepherded a version of the legislation through the Senate’s health committee.
“We?ll continue to discuss these issues in greater depth over the coming days as we press forward with this critical work with the White House,” Reid, Baucus and Dodd said in a joint statement after the meeting.
“We all share the belief that failure is not an option, and we are energized with how close we stand to bringing meaningful reform to our health insurance system,” said the senators.
They also cited “strong consensus” that they can build a bill that will attract the support of 60 senators — a key threshhold in part because that many votes ensure the ability to break any parliamentary delaying tactics.
The senators said their talks would continue next week, after a Thursday meeting of Senate Democrats.
The goal is to blend the versions approved by the two committees with an eye on bringing one unified bill to a vote in the coming weeks in the full Senate, which like the House is under the control of Obama’s Democratic allies.
In the House, the chairmen of the three key committees with jurisdiction over health care said on Tuesday that they were close to merging their versions of the legislation, which is expected to differ from the Senate’s final plan.
If the House and Senate approve different bills, as seems likely, they would have to thrash out a compromise version and vote again to send the legislation to Obama’s desk to be signed into law.
Strong opposition remains: The powerful health insurance lobby reportedly planned a television advertising blitz against the plan, while Republicans expressed frustration about being cut out of the talks.
Lawmakers of both parties unhappy with the bills also planned to try to amend the compromise versions when they reach the full House and Senate.
Democratic unity was far from guaranteed, amid intra-party feuds over how to pay for the massive overhaul and whether to include a government-backed insurance plan popularly known as a “public option.”
Key senators and Democratic House leaders have said they want the final legislation to include a public option, while swing-vote lawmakers have balked amid growing public unease about government spending.
“Now’s not the time to pat ourselves on the back. Now’s not the time to offer ourselves congratulations. Now’s the time to dig in and work even harder to get this done,” Obama said Tuesday.