WASHINGTON (CNN) – A Democratic Senate chairman at the heart of Capitol Hill's delicate health-care negotiations announced Wednesday that he intends to unveil a long-awaited compromise reform bill from his committee next week.
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana , head of the Senate Finance Committee, also told reporters that he is prepared to move forward in the legislative process with or without Republican support.
"The time has come for action and we will act," Baucus told reporters.
"We have a path for moving forward. This is our moment."
The Finance Committee's "Gang of Six," a group of three Democratic and three Republican senators, has been working for months to craft bipartisan health-care legislation.
What's next in the health care fight? CNN Radio takes a look ahead
Baucus, who said he intends to continue working with the GOP minority, made the announcement after spending much of the morning meeting with committee Democrats. He said he expects that some Republicans will ultimately "be on board."
However, a number of leading Democrats have been indicating for some time that they do not expect much - if any - Republican support by the end of the process. Top House Republicans reiterated Wednesday their position that health-care deliberations should start over from scratch.
The White House had been pushing for an agreement on a compromise proposal in advance of President Barack Obama's health-care speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.
The Finance Committee is the last of five congressional committees that need to approve health-care legislation before the topic can be taken up by both the full Senate and the full House of Representatives.
Three House committees have already approved a bill, along with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
One of the Democratic members of the Gang of Six pushed back hard earlier Wednesday against the idea of a firm deadline for passing a bill.
"This idea that there is a drop-dead day or hour is ... absolutely counterproductive to doing something that is critically important," Sen. Kent
Conrad of North Dakota told a group of reporters.
Baucus had set a 10 a.m. Wednesday deadline for the negotiators to come up with counterproposals to a compromise plan he circulated Tuesday. He told reporters that, in response, he had received several ideas from committee Republicans.
Baucus' plan would, among other things, drop the public option provision favored by many Democrats, allow for the creation of non-profit health-care cooperatives, and tax insurance companies that provide the most expensive health-insurance plans.
As with other reform proposals, it would would bar insurance companies from dropping a policyholder in the event of illness, add new protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and establish tax credits to help low- and middle-income families purchase insurance coverage, according to a source close to the negotiations. The plan also would create health-insurance exchanges to make it easier for small groups and individuals to buy insurance.
It proposes new fees intended to generate $6 billion from health insurance companies and $4 billion a year from the medical-device manufacturing sector starting in 2010, along with additional money from drug makers and clinical laboratories.
Under the proposal, health insurance would be mandatory for all Americans, and those lacking coverage could be fined, with a maximum penalty of $3,800 for families making more than 300 percent above the poverty line.
Considered part of a last-ditch effort to secure Republican votes for a health-care bill, the compromise proposal received a lukewarm reception from Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, one of the Republicans in the Gang of Six.
Grassley criticized the proposed tax on expensive health insurance policies Tuesday, telling CNN it would likely be passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums and therefore drive up the cost of insurance. However, he indicated he could support the idea of non-profit health insurance cooperatives so long as the federal government had no role in operating them.
In addition, a source close to Grassley, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are private, told CNN that the senator wants the bill to be less expensive than the estimated $880 billion price tag.
Baucus said Tuesday that he hoped to know before Obama's speech Wednesday night whether he can strike a deal with Grassley and the other participating Republicans - Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.
White House and Democratic leadership sources have said for some time they do not think Grassley and Enzi will sign on to a compromise bill.
However, the Grassley source told CNN that the senator would offer counterproposals to Baucus on Wednesday morning, as requested.
Snowe, meanwhile, said Tuesday that reaching a deal on Baucus' timetable was "overly ambitious," but she remained committed to continuing to negotiate a bill that could win support from both Republicans and Democrats.
Snowe and the White House have been discussing a "trigger" provision that would mandate creation of a public-health-insurance option in the future if specific thresholds for expanded coverage and other changes were not met.
Support by Snowe would improve the chances of the Senate's Democratic majority to gather the 60 votes necessary to overcome a possible Republican filibuster against a health-care bill.
–CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report