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October 15, 2009

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Obama's health care proposal crosses another major hurdle

A DAY after a key committee backed United States President Barack Obama's health care overhaul proposal, Senate Democrats yesterday began the difficult search for a compromise plan that could overcome the major hurdles that lie ahead.

The Senate Finance Committee vote on Tuesday gave a boost to Obama, who has made passage of a health care bill the signature issue of the first year of his presidency.

But that committee's version must now be merged with a very different version approved by another panel before it goes to the full Senate.

To overcome Republican delaying tactics, Democrats will need a version that wins the support of 60 of the Senate's 100 members.

With the party and its allies fully united, Democrats have the votes. But keeping the party united is not easy because Democrats have different ideas about the law's provisions - and different demands from voters ahead of next year's congressional elections.

Republicans are almost unanimous in their opposition and could try procedural tactics to derail the bill in the Senate.

Though one Republican, Senator Olympia Snowe, voted with Democrats on the Finance Committee, she said her future support is not assured.

Obama's success or failure could shape next year's congressional elections and determine whether he has the political clout to prevail on global warming, Afghanistan war policy and other critical issues.

Health care talks will once again slip back behind closed doors as Senate leaders start trying to merge very different bills into a new version that can get the 60 votes needed to guarantee its passage.

All eyes are on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has said he wants to get historic health care overhaul legislation onto the floor the week after next.

Both bills were written by Democrats, but that's not going to make it easier for Reid.

They share a common goal, which is to provide all Americans with access to affordable health insurance, but they differ on how to accomplish it.

The Finance Committee bill that was approved on Tuesday has no government-sponsored insurance plan and no requirement on employers that they must offer coverage.

It relies instead on a requirement that all Americans obtain insurance.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee bill, passed earlier by a panel in which liberals predominate, calls for both a government plan to compete with private insurers and a mandate that employers help cover their workers.

At the White House, Obama called the vote "a critical milestone" toward remaking America's health care system and declared, "We are going to get this done."

Yet, Obama wasn't ready to bask in the bipartisan glow.

"Now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back," he said. "Now is the time to dig in and work even harder."


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