Weakening health reform in exchange for bipartisanship is unacceptable, Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., July 7th, according to a report in Washington-based Roll Call.

The newspaper reported that Sen. Reid saw giving up a public health option and including taxes on employment-based health benefits as going too far to secure a handful of Republican votes.

The Senate Democratic leader reportedly indicated that such a move would cost as much as 15 Democratic votes.

Sen. Baucus heads the Finance Committee which oversees the crafting of key bills with major appropriations. Baucus crafted and managed the passage of the S-CHIP bill signed into law last January by President Obama.

The Senate is also working on an alternative bill, which has strong Democratic support, in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. and being managed by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

Initial drafts of that bill include an employer mandate and a public option for individuals and families who cannot afford private insurance, are excluded from the private insurance rolls, or currently are dissatisfied with their coverage.

Sen. Reid’s warning also came the same day Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was sworn as the Democratic caucus’ 60th member.

Also, the same day, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel sparked a small uproar among health care advocates when he told a Wall Street Journal reporter that the public option was ‘negotiable.’

Within hours of the comment, President Obama issued a statement from Moscow, Russia, correcting Emmanuel’s misstatement. “I am pleased by the progress we’re making on health care reform and still believe, as I’ve said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest,’’ the statement said.

July 8th, Vice President Biden met with Senate leaders and urged passage of a health reform bill before the August recess. Biden also announced an agreement with major hospital associations to control medical costs by $150 billion over the next 10 years. That announcement came on the heels of similar agreement with the pharmaceutical companies to control the costs of prescription drugs.

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