Obama Pushes Health Care Overhaul

President Obama has said health care will top his agenda for the next several weeks in hopes of getting a bill through each house of Congress by the august recess. Although he praised lawmakers Wednesday for moving forward on health care overhaul, there is still a long way to go.

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President Obama says for the next several weeks, he'll be focused on one thing: health care. His goal: to get a bill through each house of Congress by the August recess. Today, he praised lawmakers for moving forward on health- care overhaul. But as NPR's Mara Liasson reports, there is still a long way to go.

MARA LIASSON: Surrounded by registered nurses and Democratic lawmakers in the Rose Garden, President Obama praised the House of Representatives, where Democrats unveiled their health-care plan yesterday, and the Senate HELP Committee, which passed its bill today.

President BARACK OBAMA: Both proposals will take what's best about our system today and make it the basis for our system tomorrow, reducing costs, raising quality, and ensuring fair treatment of consumers by the insurance industry.

LIASSON: The president touted the fact that the Senate committee bill included 160 Republican amendments. Mr. Obama called that a hopeful sign. But the president didn't point out that not a single Republican voted for the final HELP Committee bill. In the Senate Finance Committee, members are still struggling to come up with a bill that can get Republican votes. One problem is public opinion, which isn't very helpful. Polls show that almost everyone wants health-care costs lowered and coverage expanded, but no one wants to pay more or give up anything to reach those goals. Harvard Professor Bob Linden is an expert on what the public thinks about health care.

Professor BOB LINDEN (Harvard University): In their mind, reform doesn't mean sacrifice on their part. It means streamlining, making the system work, records going, lower administrative cost, less paperwork, but they don't pay more.

LIASSON: The House bill, says Linden, is written with exactly those sentiments in mind.

Prof. LINDEN: The House bill checked every public opinion box. It asks upper-income people to pay for most of the new costs. And it talks about saving money by reducing payments to physicians and hospitals. And that's pretty much how the general public thinks it should be done.

LIASSON: But, Linden says, the House bill will outrage an array of very powerful interest groups, like hospitals, insurers and small businesses - groups that the White House has worked very hard to keep inside the tent on health care. So the Democratic Party is trying to ramp up public pressure from the outside with a new television ad.

(Soundbite of television ad)

Unidentified Man #1: My father-in-law walks with a limp because he didn't have health care.

Unidentified Woman #1: My husband's job covered us until he was laid off.

Unidentified Man #1: It's time.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's time.

Unidentified Man #2: It's time.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's time for health-care reform.

LIASSON: The text on the screen says: Call your senator. The senators who live in the states where the ad is airing just happened to be the key swing votes for health reform - mostly conservative Democrats and a few moderate Republicans. The DNC ad buy is an indication that the White House understands the key health-care battle will occur in the Senate, not the House. And it will be fought primarily within its own party.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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Health Care Overhaul Clears Senate Committee

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.

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