Closing in on a deal

CLOSING IN ON A DEAL…. In order for health care reform to advance, a handful of steps have to be taken. And while most of the attention has centered around getting the necessary number of votes, there’s also the matter of figuring out exactly what will be in the separate budget fix, which would be approved through reconciliation.

The AP reports this morning that the a final agreement is “nearly in hand.”

A closed-door meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office Wednesday evening moved congressional leaders and administration officials close to agreement on such issues as additional subsidies to help lower-income families purchase health insurance and more aid for states under the Medicaid program for low-income Americans.

Democrats still need to see a final cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office — and want to ensure it stays around $950 billion over 10 years — but they made plans to begin to read the bill to rank-and-file Democrats at a caucus meeting Thursday.

Pelosi met with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and other top officials, and came away optimistic. “I’m very pleased about where we are,” Pelosi said, adding that she and House leaders would iron out the remaining wrinkles “over the course of the reading” with her caucus later today.

“We’ve resolved a number of issues and seriously made a lot of good progress,” Emanuel added. “The staff now has direction to go work on a couple other things to basically resolve some issues. But we’ve made tremendous progress.”

House Dems will get their first real sense of how much progress in their caucus meeting. “We’re going to get started,” Pelosi said of her afternoon plans.

Also today, we’re likely to hear from the Congressional Budget Office, giving lawmakers additional information about the cost and expected budget impact of the package.

And what about the Stupak Dozen? There have been no announced breakthroughs, but one of Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) key allies — Rep. Dale Kildee (D) of Michigan — has been supportive of Stupak’s efforts, but said last night that he’s satisfied with the language of the Senate bill. “I think the Senate language keeps the purpose of the Hyde amendment,” Kildee told reporters. “I’ll probably vote for it.”

There’s no official list of members in Stupak’s bloc, but Kildee was likely a member. Of course, Stupak can still kill health care reform with 11 votes instead of 12, but keep an eye on whether Kildee’s pronouncement influences other member of the contingent.