President Barack Obama met privately with Senate Democrats on Tuesday and then declared they were "on the precipice" of enacting health care legislation that has eluded administrations and lawmakers for decades.
Flanked by the senators, the president said differences still remain over the details of the bill, but he spoke in highly favorable terms about the measure that party leaders hope to pass by Christmas.
The measure includes "all the criteria I laid out" in a speech to a joint session of Congress earlier in the year, he said. "It is deficit-neutral it bends the cost curve, it covers 30 million Americans who don't have health insurance and it has extraordinary insurance reforms."
The meeting followed an intense two days in which Democrats struggled — apparently successfully — to keep the legislation moving forward despite a flare-up over a proposal to expand Medicare.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., announced on Sunday he opposed the proposal, and he threatened to join Republicans in voting against the overall measure if it stayed in the bill. Democrats are ready to jettison the provision, and Lieberman told reporters that assuming they do — and that any government plan or Medicare expansion stays out of the bill — "then I'm going to be in a position where I can say what I've wanted to say all along: that I'm ready to vote for health care reform."
That left Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., the only potential holdout among the 60 senators who are members of the Democratic caucus. He has been seeking changes to increase restrictions on abortion coverage in a new insurance marketplace the bill would establish.
Democrats need 60 votes to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster.
The White House meeting unfolded as Democrats awaited a final cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office on the latest version of the bill, and the full Senate pointed toward a vote on an amendment to permit the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere.
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