(For a TAKE A LOOK on healthcare, click on [ID:nN07323916])
* Republicans say legislation moving too quickly
* Budget office says more money needed to pay for it
* American Medical Association backs House bill
* Republican Senator urges Obama to be patient
(Updates with details, budget office analysis)
By Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON, July 16 President Barack Obama
sought on Thursday to persuade Republicans to support overhaul
of the U.S. healthcare industry, his signature domestic policy
goal, as the measures moved on a fast-track through
congressional committees with only Democratic support.
A handful of Democrats on one of the three House committees
trying to fast-track the legislation said they also could not
back the Democratic bill, but this was not seen as posing a
major obstacle to its passage before both chamber recess in the
next two to three weeks.
The focus in Congress remained on finding ways to pay for
the estimated $1 trillion cost over 10 years, either through
higher taxes or savings in the costly federal Medicare and
Medicaid programs. The head of the nonpartisan Congressional
Budget Office said Congress had yet to find a way to pay for
for the plan.
"The coverage proposals in this legislation would expand
federal spending on healthcare to a significant degree and in
our analysis so far we don't see other provisions in this
legislation reducing federal health spending by a corresponding
degree," CBO director Douglas Elmendorf told the tax-writing
House Ways and Means Committee.
The House would pay for about $587 billion of its version
with new taxes, including one on the wealthy that Republicans
charged would catch small business owners in its net and cost
more jobs during the recession.
Senate Finance Committee leaders met behind closed doors to
thrash out ways to pay, including perhaps a tax on health
insurers at a value of $100 billion over 10 years.
Chairman Max Baucus said he was dismayed that the White
House opposed taxing as income the value employers pay for
workers' health insurance. This would raise taxes for many wage
"Basically the president is not helping," Baucus said. "He
does not want (to change) the exclusion, and that's making it
After two days of closed-door meetings, Baucus said they
were still seeking a bipartisan agreement. "All participants
clearly want to reach an agreement," Baucus said.
SEEKING BIPARTISAN BACKING
In a week of speeches and meetings on the issue, Obama made
an impassioned plea for Americans to support an overhaul this
year, and warned them to expect "scare tactics" from special
interest groups opposed to the change.
"The price of doing nothing about healthcare is a price
that every business and every family will have to pay," he told
a rally in New Jersey for Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine's
re-election campaign. "That is unacceptable, that is
unsustainable, and we are going to change it in 2009."
Republicans expected little success modifying the
1,000-page Democratic-written plan. An early attempt to strike
the government-run health plan proposal was defeated in the
Ways and Means Committee that writes tax policy.
House and Senate leaders are under pressure from Obama to
complete work on healthcare before their summer recess, both to
avoid delaying his other domestic goals and to give the reform
a chance of becoming law by October.
The legislation would guarantee no one could be turned down
for insurance but would require everyone to have policies and
for businesses to buy coverage for their workers or face hefty
penalties. It would impose new rules on health insurers and set
up a government plan to compete with private insurers.
Their hope is to help rein in soaring costs in the $2.5
trillion industry, for which Americans pay more for medical
care per capita than in any other country -- even though 46
million remain without insurance.
SENATOR ASKS FOR PATIENCE
Obama met at the White House with moderate Republican
Senator Olympia Snowe, who has been central to the Finance
Committee talks and is one of a handful of Republicans who,
Democrats hope, will vote for the legislation.
Snowe urged Obama to be patient and said she and other
Republicans on the Finance panel were negotiating in good
faith, but it was a huge task and it was "overly ambitious" to
set an August deadline for Senate passage. The legislation
would make significant changes to one-sixth of the U.S.
"I assured him that I agree with his goal and his
commitment and that to give us the time that's necessary to
work through in a deliberative fashion," she told reporters.
House Education and Labor Committee Republicans objected to
the rapid pace and their inability to change the bill. "We had
24 hours to look at a bill and we're going to ram this through
today," Republican Tom Price said.
Three Democrats on the panel said they did not support it.
"I cannot support this bill in its current form," Democrat Bart
Stupak said, adding that it did not provide real competition
for the insurance industry and could hike costs for consumers.