WASHINGTON – Democratic senators were to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House Tuesday to discuss healthcare reform, amid reports of new compromise likely to infuriate liberal lawmakers.
The Senate has been struggling to pass its own version of a healthcare overhaul amid tough divides within the Democratic caucus on the bill's language.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and several senior Democratic senators told reporters Monday evening that they were closer than ever to passing legislation.
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Their renewed optimism came amid reports that a compromise designed to compensate for doing away with a government-backed "public option" health plan had been dropped after opposition from Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman.
In an effort to build the crucial 60-vote bloc needed to safely pass the healthcare reform, Reid last week opted to ditch the public option in the face of strong resistance from Lieberman and several Democrats.
But Monday, the replacement compromise plan to allow people aged 55-64 to buy into the government's Medicare program for the elderly and disabled appeared to have also been taken off the table.
Lieberman told reporters the bill now included a "very strong network and system of subsidies for people, including people who are 55 to 65, so the idea of the Medicare buy-in no longer was necessary."
While Reid and other senior Democrats did not confirm that the Medicare buy-in plan was dead, their statements suggested legislation would now move forward quickly.
"We have gone over most of the hurdles," Reid said. "I'm confident that by next week we'll be on our way to forward this bill to the president."
Senator Chris Dodd echoed the optimistic timetable outlined by Reid and appeared to signal that some of the reform liberal Democrats are hoping to see will not be included in the final healthcare bill.
"It's always easier to envision the legislation you want than to pass the legislation you need and that certainly is true with healthcare," he said.
Obama has made passing a comprehensive overhaul of the US healthcare system, complete with lower costs and wider coverage, a key domestic priority and it formed a significant part of his campaign platform.
But the process has proven difficult, with opposition coming from both Republicans and Democrats, and Obama's party leadership has been forced to accept significant compromises in order to secure votes.
Obama is still hoping to sign legislation by the end of the year, which leaves lawmakers with little time to pass a Senate bill and then reconcile the two versions.
The compromises won by Lieberman in the Senate, as well as language in the House bill that limits funding for abortion, have also angered liberal Democrats, posing another threat to the legislation's chances of completion by year's end.