GANG OF SIX LOOKING FOR SCISSORS…. For most of the early summer, the political world waited on six members of the Senate Finance Committee — centrists and center-right members from rural states — to approve a bill. They couldn’t. Members wanted more time, and got more time. It didn’t matter. Hopes that the Senate might pass a measure before the August recess were dashed because the so-called Gang of Six wanted to negotiate some more.

Three weeks into August, have they made progress? No, members of the gang haven’t gotten together for a chat. They’d talked about the possibility of a meeting, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) scrapped the plans, citing a busy summer schedule.

Late yesterday, the Gang of Six managed to connect over the phone. They reportedly raised the idea of moving the reform legislation even further to the right.

In a conference call, the three Democratic and three Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee agreed to redouble their efforts to craft a less costly alternative to the trillion-dollar initiatives so far put forward in Congress. They discussed the possibility of also reining in the scope of their package, the sources said. […]

Before leaving for the month-long recess, Baucus had pegged the cost of the negotiators’ ideas at less than $900 billion over the next decade. Thursday’s discussions focused on driving that cost lower, the sources said.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, note that the only reason to “rein in the scope” of reform, and try to make the efforts much cheaper, would be to satisfy the demands of conservative Republicans — the conservative Republicans who oppose health care reform, and who intend to vote against the bill anyway.

This is madness.

Also note, before the recess, the Gang of Six was given a Sept. 15 deadline. At that point, Senate leaders have said, the legislative process will just have continue on without them. According to the WaPo account, the six “rejected the idea of imposing a deadline on their negotiations,” and said they’d chat again in two weeks.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.