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Senate to Merge Health Care Bills

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Senate leaders will begin today to merge the Senate Finance Committee's 10-year $829 billion health care bill approved yesterday, with another more liberal bill which was passed in July in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Merging the bills will be no small feat. Although both would provide all Americans with access to affordable health insurance, the HELP committee bill calls for a government-funded plan and a mandate that employers help cover their workers. The finance committee bill omits the public option and has no requirement that employers offer coverage.

Up until this week, all eyes were on how the moderate Republican Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe, would vote on the finance committee bill.

“It evolved,’’ Snowe said of her choice to vote for the bill with the Democrats. “There was no one moment. I worked the weekend on it. I went back and forth.’’

President Barack Obama praised Snowe publicly Wednesday.

"In particular, Senator Snowe has been extraordinarily diligent in working together so that we can reduce costs of health care (and) make sure that people who don't have it are covered," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada plans to lose no time in merging the two bills. He will head up the first official meeting of the group Wednesday, which will include Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-Connecticut).

Reid will also try to shore up Republican support for new legislation, and to that end will invite Olympia Snowe to the meeting.

“He is prepared to do what he can to keep her on board while putting together a bill that can get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster,” Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid told The New York Times.