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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats closed in on a final deal on a landmark U.S. healthcare overhaul on Friday, with President Barack Obama pushing them to move quickly in marathon White House negotiating sessions.
Negotiators from the House of Representatives and Senate made "solid progress" in talks that stretched into the early morning on Friday, the White House said. Democrats hope to send the bill's major provisions to budget analysts within days.
"I would certainly hope that within the next 24, 48, 72 hours, that we have a general agreement between the Senate and the House," House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer told CNBC.
The talks gathered new urgency as polls show the overhaul is increasingly unpopular and Democrats could lose next week's special Massachusetts election to replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy -- costing them their crucial 60th vote in the Senate.
Democrats are pushing to finish the bill before Obama's State of the Union speech in early February, as lawmakers hope to turn to an agenda on jobs and the economy ahead of congressional elections in November.
Negotiators scored a breakthrough on Thursday, winning labor union support for a revised tax on high-cost insurance plans included in the Senate bill that was opposed by unions and many House Democrats.
That cleared one of the biggest remaining hurdles, but negotiators still must resolve thorny issues on how to pay for the plan, the structure of the new insurance exchanges created under the bill and other details.
The House and Senate versions of the overhaul must be melded into one bill and passed again by each chamber before Obama can sign it.
Both bills would extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, create exchanges where individuals can shop for insurance plans and bar insurance practices like refusing coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid met in the White House Cabinet room deep into the early morning on Friday. Obama stayed in the meeting until about 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT).
"They made solid progress toward a final package," a White House spokesman said.
House-Senate negotiators looking for more revenue are considering expanding the tax on Medicare, the health program for the elderly, to income from investments by the wealthiest Americans.
They also have asked the pharmaceutical industry to kick in at least another $10 billion above the $80 billion it agreed to pay last year in a deal with the White House, industry sources said.
Other health industries also could be asked to pay more as negotiators look to replace the $60 billion lost in the tax deal with labor unions.
Obama visited the Capitol on Thursday and told House Democrats that he recognized the healthcare overhaul was unpopular, but attitudes would change once the final bill is passed.
"I know how big a lift this has been," he said. But he said once it is passed "the American people will suddenly learn this bill does things they like and doesn't do things that people have been trying to say it does."
In a private session with House Democrats after his speech, Obama signaled he supported the House's version of a national insurance exchange, rather than the Senate's state exchanges, a Democratic House aide said.
Both the House and Senate have limited room to maneuver in the negotiations, treading carefully to avoid losing support. A shift of three votes in the House could doom the bill, which passed by a 220 to 215 vote in November.
The Senate has even less room for error -- the bill passed on Christmas Eve with exactly the 60 votes it needed to overcome unified Republican opposition and a single defection could doom it.
If the Democrats lose the Massachusetts Senate race, it would take about 15 days to certify the results, state election officials say. That might give Congress time to pass the bill if it hurries.
Editing by Vicki Allen