Lawmakers Inch Forward On Health Care Bill

Lawmakers are still trying to come up with a health care overhaul that will include a strong public insurance option, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday as the House Energy and Commerce Committee resumed work on a bill.

Pelosi (D-CA) said a deal struck between Democratic leaders and the party's conservative "Blue Dogs" provided for an option that would be stiff competition for private insurance companies. She said the Democratic-controlled House has the votes to pass a health care plan after Congress returns from a monthlong recess in September.

Meanwhile, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) warned members not to weigh the legislation down with costly amendments as they hammer out a bill. He said he hopes the committee will wrap up its work Friday.

Waxman and the Blue Dogs agreed Wednesday to changes in the legislation that are designed to hold costs down. The pact also included an agreement that the bill wouldn't go to the full House for a vote until after the recess. Two other House committees have already finished working on versions of the bill.

Meanwhile, Senate negotiators were trying to come up with a bipartisan plan. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the committee's most senior Republican, said Wednesday they were making progress.

But Sen. Mike Enzi, a key Republican involved in bipartisan talks, said lawmakers probably wouldn't agree on a plan before the break.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said the obstacles to the bill mean that Congress probably won't finish its work until late fall. "The president wanted to have it on his desk in October," said Harkin. "Well, he'll probably have it in November now. But I'm very hopeful we'll get it done at least by that time."

The House bill and the plan under negotiation in the Senate meet Obama's goal of providing health coverage to 46 million uninsured Americans, while trying to slow the growth of medical costs. Obama initially hoped the House and Senate would pass separate bills before the recess, but Republicans and moderate Democrats objected to the short timeline.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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