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Key Democrats ask for time on health care bill

WASHINGTON — The drive to remake the nation's health care system suffered yet another setback in Congress on Thursday when a pivotal group of House Democrats rebelled against leadership-backed legislation taking shape and sought additional time to make changes.

"We need to slow down and do it right," Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., said outside a meeting of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 52 moderate to conservative Democrats. "It needs to do a much better job of cost containment" within the health care system, he added.

Other lawmakers said they were concerned about proposed tax increases, the rules on any government-sold insurance, and other issues that are key to implementing President Barack Obama's call for sweeping legislation.

Ross said the group was drafting a letter to the Democratic leadership asking for additional time. Although he did not specify how much time, he said he believes no vote should take place until the fall — well after an informal midsummer deadline set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The group met as Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee were laboring to put the final pieces in place on a bill that the White House has praised. The party's leadership hopes to unveil it Friday and push it through committee next week.

"I promised the president that we would have legislation out of the House before we went on an August break. That is still my goal," Pelosi said earlier in the day.

The developments came as a similar midsummer timetable appeared in danger of slipping away in the Senate.

There, the Democratic leadership is intent on scuttling a proposed tax on health care benefits that has long been key to attempts at a bipartisan compromise. At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others went out of their way to emphasize their interest in gaining Republican support for legislation.

As an alternative, Democrats are considering raising taxes on wealthy investors to help pay for health care legislation, along with other options, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The proposal to extend the current 1.45 percent Medicare payroll tax to capital gains earned by high-income taxpayers would bring in an estimated $100 billion over 10 years.

Despite some success — the nation's hospitals agreed to a cut of $155 billion in projected Medicare and Medicaid payments — progress has been scant and internal differences magnified.

In general, any bill that emerges from Congress is expected to follow Obama's blueprint for reining in health care costs overall while extending coverage to 50 million who lack it.

Key Democrats ask for time on health care bill 07/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 10:31pm]
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