DAVID ESPO AP Special Correspondent WASHINGTON
The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said this morning he wanted to complete work on a sweeping health care bill by nightfall, opening the way for Democratic leaders to bring the historic legislation to the floors of both the House and Senate as early as mid-October. "I have high hopes of finishing today," Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said as he gaveled open the committee's seventh day of work on legislat ion embracing President Barack Obama's call for greater protections for those who have unreliable insurance or no coverage at all. Baucus said his plans "might mean we go late tonight ... quite late." The committee has been meeting well into the evening most nights this week and last. Finance is the only one of five committees in Congress that has yet to complete work on a health overhaul bill. Once it finishes, Senate leaders can work to finalize a package to bring to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. , said Wednesday the Senate debate could begin the week of Columbus Day, Oct. 12, even though lawmakers are scheduled to be on vacation at the time. Democratic aides said the House was working on roughly the same timetable, although after months of missed deadlines, neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Reid would provide a detailed schedule. Debate in the Senate could take weeks, compared with mere days in the House. But even now, two weeks before the projected start of debate, key decisions are yet to be made about elements of the bills. Reid must decide, for example, whether to include an option for the government to sell insurance in competition with private industry, a provision sought by liberals who argue it would subject private insurers to much-needed competition.