WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will offer changes to his healthcare overhaul this week, the White House said on Monday, and a leading Democrat said the president was preparing a smaller version of his broad bid to revamp the $2.5 trillion industry.
After a healthcare “summit” last week failed to win Republican converts, Obama and his fellow Democrats have been expected to launch a final push for an overhaul using a process known as reconciliation to get the measure through the Senate without opposition support.
“The president will speak on this later in the week, likely on Wednesday,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “He’ll discuss process and policy.”
Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said Obama would soon propose a healthcare bill “much smaller” than either the bill passed by the House or the one passed by the Senate.
With virtually no Republican votes, Democrats in the Senate and House approved the bills last year to reshape healthcare by cutting costs, regulating insurers and expanding coverage to tens of millions of Americans who now lack it.
But efforts to merge the two measures and send a final version for Obama to sign into law collapsed in January after Democrats lost their crucial 60th Senate vote in a special election in Massachusetts.
“In a matter of days, we will have a proposal,” Pelosi said during an event in Denver, according to Fox News. “It will be a much smaller proposal than we had in the House bill, because that’s where we can gain consensus. But it will be big enough to put us on a path of affordable, quality healthcare for all Americans that holds insurance companies accountable.”
The push for a healthcare overhaul is seen as politically risky for both Republicans and Democrats, before congressional elections in November in which more than one third of the Senate and every seat in the House will be up for grabs.
With the public focused on an unemployment rate hovering just below 10 percent, some Americans consider the healthcare push an unwelcome distraction from the economy.
But failure to do anything to control skyrocketing costs or ease the plight of the tens of millions of Americans without insurance coverage could add to the perception that Washington is too wrapped up in partisanship and pleasing special interests to do anything meaningful to help voters.
A healthcare revamp received some support on Monday from investor Warren Buffett, the world’s second richest man, who said the country badly needed a change. But he said he would prefer a program focused on out-of-control costs.
“It’s like a tapeworm eating at our economic body,” Buffett said on CNBC television.
“If it was a choice today between Plan A, which is what we’ve got, or Plan B, which is the Senate bill, I would vote for the Senate bill,” he said. “But I would much rather see a Plan C that really attacks costs, and I think that’s what the American public wants to see.”
Rising costs, Buffett said, are holding back an economy that faced an “economic Pearl Harbor” in late 2008 when capital markets seized up.
Republicans insist that Obama should scrap the existing healthcare plans and start over. They condemn any talk of reconciliation, which would allow the Democrats to pass a healthcare plan in the Senate — where they control 59 seats — with a simple majority of 51 votes.
The White House says Obama’s healthcare plans include many Republican ideas, and that Republicans have used reconciliation to pass many sweeping pieces of legislation — including major tax cuts — when they held Senate majorities.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Chris Wilson