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Obama, Democrats Eager To Move Past Health Bill

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Obama, Democrats Eager To Move Past Health Bill

Health Care

Obama, Democrats Eager To Move Past Health Bill

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The push to change the nation's health care system has gained a little more support. Leaders of organized labor say they will go along with a plan to tax expensive health insurance plans, so-called Cadillac plans. The labor unions say they've won some concessions designed to shield middle-class families. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The president and his negotiating team have been working long hours trying to bridge differences between the House and Senate versions of the health care bill. Mr. Obama has endorsed the Senate's idea of taxing high-cost policies as one way to rein in costs and help pay for expanding health care coverage.

Labor leaders threatened to oppose the health care bill if it included such a tax, a potentially embarrassing setback for the president. The administration managed to put together a compromise, and a confident Mr. Obama spoke to House Democrats last night.

President BARACK OBAMA: Today, we are on the doorstep of accomplishing something that Washington has been talking about since Teddy Roosevelt was president, and that is reforming health care and health insurance here in America. Now...

HORSLEY: The compromise raises the price tag at which an insurance plan would be subject to the tax - from 23 to $24,000 for a family policy, for example.

It also provides a grace period for insurance policies that are part of a collective bargaining agreement, and protections for workers whose insurance costs more because of their age, sex or high-risk professions.

All of those adjustments mean the tax would raise less money for expanding health care coverage. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was happy that a deal was made.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): It just says that we are making progress to get closer to reconciling the House and Senate bills.

HORSLEY: For all the progress they've made, though, Democrats are not exactly in a celebratory mood. Mr. Obama acknowledged as much in thanking House members for their efforts.

Pres. OBAMA: Believe me, I know how big a lift this has been.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said he reads the polls and catches the occasional story on cable TV showing sinking public support for the health care plan. Congressional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says over the last year, sometimes unruly House Democrats have generally stuck by their president, despite those concerns.

Mr. THOMAS MANN (Brookings Institution): The reality is they have a shared political fate. And Obama has to make the case that they've got to stick together, because divided they will all almost certainly fail.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama expressed confidence that voters will like the health care plan better once it's signed into law and they're able to see for themselves what it does and doesn't do. He promised to campaign on behalf of the bill's consumer protections from one end of the country to the other.

Pres. OBAMA: If the Republicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: But many Democrats in the House and Senate are eager to put the health care fight behind them and go to work on the issue that's uppermost in voters' minds: jobs.

House Democrats devoted much of their two-day issues retreat this week to economic policymaking, and Mr. Obama pledged that will be his focus in the new year, as well.

Pres. OBAMA: We are going to have a sustained and relentless focus over the next several months on accelerating the pace of job creation, because that's priority number one.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama offered just one guarantee to members of his party: 2010 will not be boring.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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