Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held out hope of completing legislation by late December to remake the U.S. health care system, President Barack Obama's top domestic priority.
"I think we would do almost anything if it meant that we would pass health care for all Americans before the Christmas holidays," she told reporters as the Senate struggled with its 2,074-page version of the bill.
"It may be that we can't, that we have to do it for a New Year's present to the American people. But as soon as we can, we will," said Pelosi, who shepherded the House of Representatives version to passage on November 7.
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She also signaled support for part of a key Senate compromise plan designed to attract centrist Democrats at the expense of dropping plans for a government-backed "public option" to compete with private insurers -- something she had previously insisted would have to be in any final legislation.
Pelosi said the Senate's reported plans to allow people aged 55-64 to buy into the government-run Medicare program for the elderly and disabled had "a great deal of appeal."
Pelosi did not repeat her previous warnings that she could not win House passage of a health care overhaul that lacked a "public option," but said she continued to view that as the best way to control soaring coasts.
"If there is a better way, put it on the table," she said.
Asked whether she could win House support for the Senate plan, Pelosi replied: "As soon as we see something in writing from the Senate, we will be able to make a judgment about that."
The Senate compromise announced earlier this week would reportedly replace the "public option" with a plan in which the government agency that handles health coverage for government workers would manage insurance coverage still offered by private firms.
Pelosi's comments came as Democratic senators awaited the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office's assessment of the cost and effect of as-yet undisclosed possible changes to the bill to attract support from swing-vote centrist Democrats.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who needs 60 votes to ensure passage of the legislation, said he felt "pretty confident" about clearing that bar but "we'll find out when we have the vote."
If the Senate passes its version, the House and Senate would have to work out their differences and send the same bill to Obama to sign into law.
Pelosi said the House and Senate approaches were "probably 75 percent compatible," and that the lingering differences -- on some difficult issues, including abortion -- were "not irreconcilable."
The Senate this week defeated an amendment that would have sharply tightened restrictions barring the use of government money for abortions, a measure similar to one the House added before passing the overall legislation.
Many Democrats have warned they will oppose the new language in any final House-Senate compromise version.
"I think that we all agree that there will be no federal funding for abortion, that there will be no change in status in terms of expanding or diminishing a woman's right to choose, and that we will have a health care bill," she said.
"So if everybody is on board of having a health care bill, we know that we can come to agreement on federal funding of abortion," said Pelosi.
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