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July 17, 2009

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Obama's health bill moves to next step

DEMOCRATS in the United States House of Representatives are preparing to advance legislation that would deliver on President Barack Obama's promise to remake the nation's costly health care system and cover some 50 million uninsured.

On the heels of the Senate health committee's approval on Wednesday of a plan to revamp US health care, three House committees with jurisdiction over the issue were shifting into action.

Votes planned

Votes were being planned in the Education and Labor committee and the Ways and Means committee on a US$1.5 trillion plan that majority House Democrats presented this week.

The legislation seeks to provide coverage to nearly all Americans by subsidizing the poor and penalizing individuals and employers who don't purchase health insurance.

A third House committee, Energy and Commerce, also was considering the measure, but the road was expected to be rougher there.

A group of fiscally conservative House Democrats called the Blue Dogs holds enough seats on the committee to block approval and is opposing the bill over costs and other issues.

Democrat Representative Mike Ross, who chairs the Blue Dogs' health care task force, said the group would need to see significant changes to protect small businesses and rural providers and contain costs before it could sign on. "We cannot support the current bill," he said.

The Energy and Commerce Blue Dogs met on Wednesday to consider what amendments they would offer, and the panel scheduled vote sessions daily until next Wednesday in what promised to be an arduous process to reach consensus.

Obama was doing all he could to encourage Congress to act. He scheduled White House meetings yesterday with two potential Senate swing votes, Democrat Senator Ben Nelson and Republican Senator Olympia Snowe.

On Wednesday he met with a group of Senate Republicans in the White House in search of a bipartisan compromise and appeared in the Rose Garden for the latest in a daily series of public appeals to Congress to "step up and meet our responsibilities" and move legislation this summer.

Obama also pushed his message in network television interviews, and his political organization launched a series of 30-second television ads.

In an interview on NBC, the president declared "there is no free lunch" and said again that the country cannot afford to postpone dealing with the health care problem.


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