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White House says Congress will pass health bill

Last Updated: Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 22:59

Washington: The White House on Sunday urged support for a compromise that would allow healthcare reform legislation to pass the U.S. Senate and pushed back against other Democrats who said the compromise gives away too much.
While the compromise unveiled on Saturday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid does not give President Barack Obama everything he wants, it is still a major step forward and can be improved in the future, top officials said.

"While it is not perfect, the bill pending in the Senate today is not just good enough -- it is very good," Vice President Joe Biden wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.

Democratic holdout Ben Nelson announced his support for the legislation on Saturday after securing language ensuring that federal funds would not be used to pay for abortions and winning extra healthcare funds for his state of Nebraska.

Nelson`s support gives Reid the 60 votes he needs in the 100-seat Senate to pass Obama`s top domestic priority by Christmas. But the bill excludes many provisions sought by liberals, notably a new government-run insurance program, known as the "public option," to compete with private insurers.

Congress has been tied up for months in sometimes acrimonious debate over healthcare reform legislation, with Republicans saying the Democratic measure is too costly and too intrusive into the healthcare sector.

The House of Representatives last month passed its version of healthcare reform. If the Senate passes its version, lawmakers must iron out the differences between the two bills, then each chamber must pass the measure again before sending it to Obama to sign into law. The House version has a public option.

White House senior advisor David Axelrod predicted congressional passage but declined to say when he thought the two chambers would iron out their significant differences, or which version he preferred.

"I think it will pass the Congress," Axelrod said on NBC`s "Meet the Press." "I think we`re going to get it done."

Senate Democrats are planning a series of crucial procedural votes scheduled to begin at 1 a.m. EST on Monday, with debate possibly concluding with final Senate passage on Christmas Eve on Thursday.

The Senate bill would extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans, expand the Medicaid government health insurance program for the poor, provide subsidies to help some people pay for coverage and halt industry practices like refusing insurance to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Healthcare costs devour 16 percent of the U.S. economy -- burdening states and the federal government while also hurting the competitiveness of U.S. businesses.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a medical doctor who is an influential figure in the Democratic Party`s left wing, said he did not support the Senate bill but would wait to see the version that emerges from talks between the House and Senate to blend the two versions.

"I would let this thing go to conference committee and let`s see if we can fix it some more," Dean said.

Other improvements are possible even after the bill becomes law, Axelrod said.

The Obama administration will seek to allow Americans to buy prescription drugs that have been imported from other countries such as Canada, where medicines often cost less, Axelrod said. The Senate turned back efforts to include drug re-importation in the healthcare bill.

"There`s no reason why Americans should pay a premium for the pharmaceuticals that people in other countries pay less for, and we will move forward on it," Axelrod said on CNN`s "State of Union."

Obama supported drug re-importation during last year`s presidential campaign, but his administration recently issued a letter from the Food and Drug Administration citing safety concerns.

Bureau Report

First Published: Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 22:59

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