Reid Extends Hand to Republicans

One day after expressing strong concern to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, about chasing GOP votes on health care reform, particularly if it is at the expense of having a government-run plan,  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, was all about bipartisanship as he met for about an hour with four committee Republicans.

"He said he wants a bipartisan bill," said Orrin Hatch, R-UT, a meeting attendee, along with top committee Republican Chuck Grassley, R-IA, Olympia Snowe, R-ME, and Mike Enzi, R-WY.

In a statement released from Reid's office, the Majority Leader said, "I had a positive meeting today with four Republican Senators about the road ahead for health care reform. Democrats have said from the beginning of this Congress and throughout this debate that with the health of our economy and our citizens at stake, our strong preference is to pass a bipartisan bill that lowers crushing health care costs for the middle class. I appreciate some of our Republican colleagues' demonstrated commitment to that goal, and I look forward to more Republicans joining us at the negotiating table."

Hatch said Republicans urged Reid not to place artificial timetables on the process but that Reid said he would like to stick to the schedule of having a bill passed by the start of the August recess.

"I think he understands we can't meet the time table he has set, but he doesn't want to give up trying," Hatch said.

Republicans also made it clear to Reid that they do not support a public option.  Reid, according to Hatch, talked to Republicans about the co-op proposal from Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, at length, but it was unclear if he was doing so as an alternative to a public option.

"He thought there might be something there," said Hatch.

Reid did say many of his Dems are uncomfortable without a public option. "Harry said the votes aren't there on his side without it," Hatch said, meaning Reid does not have 60 votes needed to break any filibuster.

When asked for clarification, a senior aide to Reid told Fox, "There is a desire to have a robust public option, but I am not here to rule anything in or out."

Reid expressed support for the Finance Cmte bill ---- but said he does not have the votes for a tax on employer-provided health care benefits as a way to pay for health care reform.

No problem there said Grassley, "We've never liked that anyway." Hatch agreed.

Chairman Baucus emerged from bipartisan negotiations Wednesday to say, "There is no directive," referring to Reid, and said the tax continues to be "on the table."

But a senior Democratic aide to a member in the negotiations tells Fox, "The tax is gone."

Another senior Finance Cmte source tells Fox a "tax on millionaires polls way higher."