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Pelosi says Senate health bill cannot pass House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday she did not think the Senate’s version of healthcare reform had enough support to pass the House of Representatives without changes.

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD)(L-MD) speaks at a press conference where a plan to deal with executive compensation at companies which received capital under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was announced on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 18, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“I don’t see the votes for it,” Pelosi told reporters, adding congressional leaders would take their time to find the right approach to passing a healthcare reform bill this year.

“In its present form, without any change, I don’t think it’s possible to pass the Senate bill in the House,” she said.

Pushing the Senate’s version of the healthcare bill through the House was an option considered by Democrats after Tuesday’s Republican victory in a Massachusetts Senate race cost them their crucial 60th Senate vote needed to pass the measure.

But some House Democrats have objected to several provisions in the Senate bill, including a tax on high-cost insurance plans that is opposed by labor unions and a less-restrictive policy on using federal funds to cover abortions.

Democrats have limited options on how to proceed on the healthcare bill, President Barack Obama’s top legislative priority, without 60 Senate votes, and have been divided on how to achieve final passage.

Pelosi said “everything is on the table,” but congressional leaders would pause to find the right course. “We’re not in a big rush,” she said.

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With the November congressional elections looming, Democrats are anxious to turn to proposals to create jobs and bolster the economy and to stop talking about a healthcare bill that polls show is unpopular with the public.

“There’s a strong view in both caucuses that we want to do some good things on healthcare and the question is how: how much and how quickly?” Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer told reporters. “I don’t think we want to do healthcare the next three months.”

Other options include putting together a scaled-back bill and using a parliamentary procedure called reconciliation for some of the legislation’s core elements. The reconciliation process requires only a simple 51-vote majority in the Senate but is limited to issues with a budgetary impact.

Both of those approaches could take more time than Democrats want to spend at this point, because they want to address the other major issues. “I wouldn’t say there is a ‘the’ top option right now. There are two or three,” Schumer said.

House and Senate Democratic leaders had been negotiating to merge the healthcare bills passed in each chamber into one version that could be passed again and sent to Obama.

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 conditions.

Reporting by Donna Smith and David Morgan; Writing by John Whitesides; editing by Philip Barbara

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