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Key GOP Senator: Health Reform Deal Not Imminent

A top GOP senator and a key Democratic aide on the Senate Finance Committee said Wednesday that a deal on health care reform was not imminent, disputing a report in the Washington Post.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., one of six senators negotiating a bipartisan agreement for health care reform on the Senate Finance Committee, said a number of issues remain unresolved.

"Reports in this morning's newspapers are off the mark, and are not helpful to the process," Enzi said in a statement. "Bad information damages the work we are doing to improve our health care system."

The staff director to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of that committee, also warned that the report was inaccurate in a memo to legislative aides, obtained by FOX News.

The memo and Enzi's statement highlight the struggles among the bipartisan group of senators and the extreme sensitivity with which Baucus must treat any "compromise" with his fellow committee Democrats who are not involved in negotiations and remain skeptical on several issues, including the absence of a public insurance option and an employee mandate for coverage.

Some Democrats have complained about being shut out of negotiations. Sen Jay Rockefeller D-W. Va., told FOX News he is not sure the committee can finish a bill by the August recess, a deadline set by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Baucus' comments Tuesday night to reporters indicated that a deal could be coalescing. The chairman said cost issues are nearly "nailed down" and that most other issues were coming together.

But the memo from his staff director, Russ Sullivan, who has been at most closed-door bipartisan compromise negotiations among his boss and five other committee members, leaves quite a different impression. 

"While progress has been made in recent days, neither an accord nor an announcement is imminent," Sullivan wrote in the memo. "In fact, significant policy issues remain to be discussed among the Members, and any one of these issues could preclude bipartisan agreement."

Enzi said he won't agree to a deal until he sees a final estimate from the Congressional Budget Office and a commitment from the White House and Democratic congressional leaders that any bipartisan agreement reached in the committee will survive in a final bill.

Click here to view the Washington Post article