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SENATORS SAY THEY'RE CLOSE ON HEALTH PLAN

WASHINGTON - Senate health care negotiators said Monday they have narrowed their differences on a host of difficult issues with just a day or so left to seal a bipartisan deal.

After months of closed-door negotiations, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said, "We're getting very close." But it remained unclear if the Montana Democrat could strike a bargain that would mark a turning point for President Barack Obama's top domestic priority.

The negotiators pared the cost of their 10-year coverage plan to under $880 billion and also reported progress on several issues, including health insurance for the poor, restrictions on federal funding for abortions, a verification system to prevent illegal immigrants from getting benefits and ways to encourage alternatives to malpractice lawsuits.

With or without GOP support, Baucus said he'll have a formal proposal Wednesday to meet a deadline for moving ahead.

At the same time, he said the bipartisan talks could continue even as his committee begins its formal bill-drafting session next week. The negotiators will meet again today.

The three Democrats and three Republicans have been laboring for a bipartisan path toward guaranteeing coverage for all and trying to control the rise in health care spending.

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