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Healthcare Bill Faces Tough Path in Senate

John Whitesides

WASHINGTON - After a landmark win in the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama's push for healthcare reform faces a difficult path in the Senate amid divisions in his own Democratic Party on how to proceed.

On a 220-215 vote, including the support of one Republican and
opposition from 39 Democrats, the House backed a bill late on Saturday
that would expand coverage to nearly all Americans and bar insurance
practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical

The battle now shifts to the Senate, where work on Obama's top
domestic priority has been stalled for weeks as Democratic leader Harry
Reid searches for an approach that can win the 60 votes he needs to
overcome Republican procedural hurdles.

"Take this baton and bring this effort to the finish line," Obama
urged senators on Sunday in an appearance at the White House, saying
passage of healthcare reform would represent "their finest moment in
public service."

Democrats have no margin for error -- they control exactly 60 seats
in the 100-member Senate. Some moderate Democrats have rebelled at
Reid's plan to include a new government-run insurance program, known as
the "public option," in the bill.

Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats,
renewed his promise on Sunday to help Republicans block a final vote if
the bill contains the government-run insurance option backed by Senate

"If the public option plan is in there, as a matter of conscience, I
will not allow this bill to come to a final vote," Lieberman said on
"Fox News Sunday."

Republicans and some moderate Democrats have balked at the House
bill's $1 trillion price tag, new taxes on the wealthy and what they
call a heavy-handed government intrusion in the private sector.

The overhaul would lead to the biggest changes in the $2.5 trillion
healthcare system -- which accounts for one-sixth of the U.S. economy
-- since the 1965 creation of the Medicare government health insurance
program for the elderly.


The House bill includes a different version of the public option
than the Senate. Senate Democrats also may not adopt the House bill's
requirement that all but the smallest employers offer coverage to their
workers and its new tax on the wealthiest Americans to pay for the


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Eventually, the House and Senate would have to reconcile their
differences and agree on one bill to be passed again and sent to Obama
for his signature.

"The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate," Republican
Senator Lindsey Graham said on CBS's "Face the Nation," calling it "a
bill written by liberals for liberals."

The House bill would set up exchanges where people could choose to
purchase private insurance or a government-run option bitterly opposed
by the insurance industry. It also would offer subsidies to help
low-income Americans buy insurance.

Congressional budget analysts say it would extend coverage to 36
million uninsured people living in the United States, covering about 96
percent of the population, and would reduce the budget deficit by about
$100 billion over 10 years.

The House vote was a vital victory for Obama, who staked much of his
political capital on the healthcare battle. A loss in the House could
have ended the fight, impaired the rest of his legislative agenda and
left Democrats vulnerable to big losses in next year's congressional

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin,
the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008 and a leader of
conservative grass-roots opposition to Obama's agenda, promised
retribution in those elections against healthcare reform advocates.

"It's on to the Senate now. Our legislators can listen now, or they
can hear us in 2010. It's their choice," Palin said on her Facebook
page, promising: "We will make our voices heard."

Reid has been awaiting cost estimates from the nonpartisan
Congressional Budget Office before unveiling a Senate bill, and has
indicated Obama's goal of signing a bill by Christmas could slip to

Reid said he hoped to receive those cost estimates in the coming
days, and that he planned to bring a final bill to the Senate floor for
consideration "as soon as possible.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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