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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

President Obama said this afternoon that the country has made unprecedented progress towards overhauling its health care system. He urged lawmakers who have been working through the night, in some cases, not to ease up.

President BARACK OBAMA: The last few miles of any race are the hardest to run, but I have to say now is not the time to slow down. And now is certainly not the time to lose heart.

BRAND: One snag concern about how the legislation might affect small business owners. NPR's Scott Horsley reports on the political tug war for small business support.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Small business is suddenly playing a big role in negotiations over health care. Supporters and opponents of various plans to overhaul the system are all trying to paint themselves as champions of mom and pop entrepreneurs.

Ms. MICHELLE DIMAROB (National Federation of Independent Business): You know, small business is key to this debate. And they're going to be a critical component if you want to be able to get health care reform done.

HORSLEY: Michelle Dimarob is a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business. She says members are not happy with the health care bill taking shape in the House this week, especially its requirement for all but the smallest employers to provide health insurance or pay a penalty.

Ms. DIMAROB: Our phones have been ringing off the hook this week, in particular from our small business owner members. They are very, very upset and very angry about the approach Congress has taken.

HORSLEY: The Democratic National Committee quickly lined up small business owners to defend the House plan. And President Obama himself talked up the benefits while campaigning yesterday in New Jersey.

Pres. OBAMA: Health care reform is about that small business owner from right here in Jackson, New Jersey, who told us he employs eight people. He provides health insurance for all of them. But his policies are going up 20 percent every year.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama argued the proposed legislation would help that small business owner by controlling runaway health care costs. But New Jersey print shop owner Joe Olivo is skeptical.

Mr. JOE OLIVO (Owner, Perfect Printing Company): I mean, he says that, but I don't see any evidence whatsoever that it's going to cost us less.

HORSLEY: Olivo employs about 35 people at his Perfect Printing Company. Although he provides health insurance for all of them, he might not meet the standard of the House mandate, because his plan carries a high deductible and does not include workers' family members.

Mr. OLIVO: We've crafted plans that fit our company, based on the demographics of our individuals. And it works, I mean, it's not ideal and it's expensive, but it works for us. For them to start mandating certain solutions, I cannot see anything good coming of that.

HORSLEY: The proposed employer mandate has also drawn a mixed reaction from big businesses. The nation's biggest — Wal-Mart — surprised fellow retailers a couple of weeks ago when it came out in support of the requirement. Wal-Mart was once criticized for not doing enough to insure its own workforce. But the company now provides coverage for more than half its employees. And Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Rossiter suggests other businesses should do the same.

Mr. GREG ROSSITER (Spokesman, Wal-Mart): Wal-Mart is for shared responsibility. Our belief is that not every business can make the same contribution, but everyone must make some type of contribution.

HORSLEY: The National Retail Federation quickly distanced itself from Wal-Mart, urging members to speak out against an employer mandate. Retailers in general provide health insurance for only about 45 percent of their workers, and the federation says, in these tough times, they can ill afford to do more.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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