A bipartisan group of seven members of the Finance Committee huddled all day Thursday, hoping to hammer out a compromise piece of health care legislation that could be marked up in committee next week and passed through the Senate by the August recess.
But by evening, the senators, who met in a private room in the office of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), exited with no deal to announce. Negotiations would begin again on Monday, they said.
Baucus dubbed the group meeting in his office the "coalition of the willing": Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
Late in the afternoon, reporters staking out Baucus' office were greeted by the surprise arrival of former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, now a powerful Washington lobbyist.
Gephardt, a top lobbyist with the bipartisan firm DLA Piper and a consultant to Goldman Sachs, was in and out in about 15 minutes. A Baucus aide said that Gephardt was visiting the office for a purpose unrelated to the ongoing health care negotiations.
Earlier, Conrad told reporters the committee was focused on cutting costs and emphasized that earlier testimony from the Congressional Budget Office director had highlighted the need to do so.
"I think everyone should take the testimony by the director of the Congressional Budget Office very seriously. Look, this country is on a course that is utterly unsustainable," said Conrad. "And for anybody that studies it, we know it's true. We are taking on debt in a way that is utterly unsustainable. This has to be faced up to. So, I remain an optimist. I think people when confronted with facts have to respond to them. And I think virtually every member knows that this has to be dealt with."
Also on Thursday, Baucus made his most hopeful comments to date that a deal may be reached by the end of the day. With the surprising news that the American Medical Association -- the historic foes of universal health care -- has decided to back the House's more progressive effort, reform has real momentum.
Jeff Muskus contributed reporting.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more