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Health care overhaul divides Democrats

WASHINGTON — House Democrats put their divisions on display over the details and timing of health care legislation Tuesday despite fresh attempts by President Barack Obama to hasten a compromise on the issue that looms increasingly as a major test of his clout.

With a self-imposed deadline for action in jeopardy, the Democratic leadership juggled complaints from conservatives demanding additional cost savings, first-term lawmakers upset with proposed tax increases and objections from members of the rank-and-file opposed to allowing the government to sell insurance in competition with private industry.

"No one wants to tell the speaker that she's moving too fast and they damn sure don't want to tell the president," Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a key committee chairman, told a fellow lawmaker as the two walked into a closed-door meeting. The remark was overheard by reporters.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed weeks ago that the House would vote by the end of July on legislation to meet two goals established by Obama months ago. The president wants legislation to extend health coverage to the tens of millions who now lack it, while at the same time restraining the growth in the cost of health care far into the future.

At the White House, Obama and moderate and conservative Democrats verbally agreed on "some type of hybrid of a Medicare advisory council," said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark.

In the Senate, a small group of bipartisan lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee met behind closed doors, pursuing an elusive agreement.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, described the process as grinding. "Basically, it's filling in the blank pages. There are about a thousand" of them, she said.

News conference set for today

As part of a White House blitz to promote President Barack Obama's health care plans, Obama will convene a nationally televised news conference at 8 p.m. today at the White House. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, said the president intended to use it as a "six-month report card," to talk about "how we rescued the economy from the worst recession" and the legislative agenda moving forward, including health care and energy legislation.

Times wires

Health care overhaul divides Democrats 07/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 11:02pm]
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