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Q+A: Obama's legislative agenda suffering setbacks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s core legislative agenda -- overhauling healthcare and addressing climate change -- has hit some stumbling blocks in the U.S. Congress.

Here are some questions and answers about the issues.

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE HEALTHCARE OVERHAUL?

Dozens of fiscally conservative Democrats, worried about the estimated $1 trillion cost, are demanding some big changes in a healthcare plan working its way through the House of Representatives. That likely will delay the official roll-out of a version of the legislation on Friday.

In a Thursday night letter to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer, about 50 House Democrats said the House should “pare back some of the cost-drivers to produce a bill that we can afford.”

Healthcare is Obama’s top legislative priority and he wants to sign a bill by the end of October to make healthcare more affordable for millions of Americans who are either having trouble paying for health insurance or doing without.

But the cost of the program -- and how to pay for it -- may force Obama to forswear his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

IS THE OVERHAUL IN TROUBLE?

In the end, probably not. Most major legislation on Capitol Hill moves in fits and starts. Democrats who control the U.S. Congress ultimately want to come to an agreement and they are well aware of how Bill and Hillary Clinton’s healthcare effort collapsed in acrimony in 1993.

“There are going to be some tough negotiations in the days and weeks to come but I’m confident that we’re going to get it done,” Obama said on Friday at the end of a Group of Eight summit in Italy. He said Americans were closer to “significant reform than at any time in recent history.”

WHAT ABOUT OBAMA’S OTHER PRIORITY, CLIMATE CHANGE?

Legislation to cut greenhouse gases in the United States suffered a setback on Thursday when the leading Senate committee responsible for the legislation postponed work until September. That leaves less time for Congress to fulfill Obama’s desire to enact a law this year.

Democrats in U.S. coal-producing states worry about the impact of the climate change legislation on their economies. Republicans see the bill as a tax increase for Americans once energy producers and manufacturers of goods bear the costs of reducing emissions and pass them on to consumers.

WHAT’S THE RUSH ON THIS LEGISLATION?

Obama wants to have an agreement he can take to a global meeting in Copenhagen in December to show that the United States is serious about an aggressive approach to global warming.

Also, he wants to use the political clout he gained from winning last year’s presidential election and get a quick agreement before lawmakers start turning their attention to 2010 re-election campaigns.

Most experts believe legislation will ultimately be approved but the details will be heatedly debated.

WHAT ABOUT THE BIGGEST U.S. PROBLEM -- THE WEAK U.S. ECONOMY?

A political firefight broke out this week over the effectiveness of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan that Democrats pushed through Congress in February.

Republicans, who had opposed the stimulus, said the package had failed to stop the rising jobless rate and Democrats led by Vice President Joe Biden insisted it needs more time to work.

Now talk has turned to whether a second stimulus might be needed that is more targeted than the first one. Most political experts doubt the political will exists to approve a second stimulus, since the public has started to show, through opinion polls, their skepticism about the first one.

Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Bill Trott

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