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September 23, 2009

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Health care bill faces obstacles in Senate

A KEY United States Senate committee tried yesterday to overcome policy and political hurdles in an effort to advance a sweeping health care reform bill and deliver on US President Barack Obama's top domestic priority.

The Senate Finance Committee - the last of five panels to have a say before the full Senate debates legislation - is considering a 10-year, nearly US$900-billion plan by Chairman Max Baucus. The Democrat has spent months striving for bipartisan common ground. But the committee remains divided. Senators have filed 564 amendments, some of which would make major changes to Baucus' carefully crafted framework.

Baucus called his proposal a "common-sense plan" that takes the best ideas from both sides and can get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.

"Despite what some may say, this is no 'government takeover' of health care," Baucus said. "Our plan does not include a public option. We did not include an employer mandate. And we have paid for every cent."

But Senator Chuck Grassley, the panel's top Republican, said the White House and Democratic leaders short-circuited the bipartisan talks by imposing a mid-September deadline. "I find it utterly and completely appalling," he said.

Grassley criticized many of the plan's key components, from a requirement that all Americans get insurance, to the taxes that would pay for subsidies to make the coverage affordable. He also said the bill falls short in guaranteeing that illegal immigrants will not get government help to buy insurance, as well as in preventing abortion funding.

Senators challenging the Baucus plan already have won concessions that include reducing a penalty for Americans who do not buy insurance, but hundreds of other changes are up for debate.


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