An overhaul of the nation's health care system passed a major hurdle Wednesday with a Senate committee approving legislation that would expand insurance coverage to nearly every American.
On a 13-10 party-line vote, the $600 billion plan that would require employers to help pay for mandatory health insurance was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
President Obama said the progress "should give us hope, but it should not give us pause."
"It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and the Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess," he said Wednesday at the White House.
The measure calls for the government to provide financial assistance for health premiums for individuals and families earning up to four times the poverty level. For a family of four, maximum income would be $88,000. The legislation is one component of a broader Senate bill still under development.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who sat in as chairman for ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy, hailed the measure.
"This bill, because of what we have done, is going to increase access, reduce cost and improve the quality of health care in our country," Dodd said.
But Republicans have put up stiff opposition to the measure, with the ranking GOP senator, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, arguing that it would break Obama's promise not to add to the deficit.
At a Rose Garden appearance to highlight the role of nurses in any overhaul, the president reiterated his message of urgency about health care reform, calling on opponents to step aside and allow the legislation to proceed.
"Deferring reform is nothing more than defending the status quo — and those who would oppose our efforts should take a hard look at just what it is they're defending," Obama said.
With the new plan, "If you lose your job, change your job or start a new business, you'll still be able to find quality health insurance you can afford," Obama promised, while pledging that anyone happy with their doctor and health care plan will be able to keep it.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he wanted floor debate to begin a week from Monday. With the Senate Finance Committee still struggling to reach consensus, that timetable could slip. Even so, it underscored a renewed sense of urgency.
On Tuesday, House Democratic leaders pledged to meet the president's goal of health care legislation before their August break, offering a $1.042 trillion plan over 10 years that for the first time would make health care a right and a responsibility for all Americans. Instead, medical providers, employers and the wealthy would have to pay more.
Part of the White House effort to push the health care legislation has included a television ad blitz targeting moderate lawmakers of both parties. A new round of 30-second ads featuring private citizens describing problems they've had with the medical system is set to debut Wednesday.
But the Republican National Committee has fought back with a fundraising appeal titled "Hillarycare revisited." The RNC warns of "Obamacare" and says, "The last thing the American people want is government telling them when and where — or even whether — they can get medical treatment for their families."
From NPR and wire service reports.