Late-night talks inch closer to health deal

LATE-NIGHT TALKS INCH CLOSER TO HEALTH DEAL…. After a slow start, the White House has its foot on the gas, steering closer to a final health care reform bill that can pass both chambers.

On Wednesday, we saw key policymakers meet for more than eight hours, addressing several key areas of disagreement. Yesterday afternoon, it appeared White House officials had reached a compromise with union leaders over health care financing. And last night, the president once again brought congressional leaders back to the White House to help inch even closer to the finish line.

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats stand within days if not hours of striking final deals on historic health care legislation after key labor unions won concessions and pledged their support. […]

Dozens of issues still needed to be finalized to reconcile bills passed separately by the House and Senate, but several lawmakers said that in the wake of the deal on the insurance plan tax, they felt a logjam had been broken.

Negotiators arrived for additional talks at the White House around 9 p.m. (ET), with the president on hand for the discussions. Participants reportedly wrapped up around 1:30 a.m. this morning, after having made “solid progress,” according to a statement released to the media.

I wouldn’t put money on it, but there’s at least a possibility that the talks could produce a package ready for Congressional Budget Office scrutiny today. The CBO review would likely take about a week.

Of course, it’s worth emphasizing that Democratic talks are proceeding under the assumption that the 60-vote caucus in the Senate will remain intact. There is a very real possibility that Massachusetts will elect a conservative Republican to replace Ted Kennedy next week, handing the GOP an opportunity to block the entire Democratic agenda for the rest of the year, including health care reform.

The question, then, is whether health care reform dies if Martha Coakley loses on Tuesday. The answer is unclear, but the initiative’s chances would deteriorate greatly. To salvage the bill, reform proponents would have to: a) convince the House to pass the Senate bill, as is; b) convince one Senate Republican to let the Senate vote up or down on the legislation; or c) wrap up the process very quickly, before the newly elected Republican is sworn into office.