WASHINGTON — Pushed by President Barack Obama, senior Democratic lawmakers plunged into marathon talks at the White House on Wednesday in a hurry-up bid for agreement on health care legislation.
"We made very substantial progress in coming together. Prospects of reaching agreement between the Senate and the House are better than they were 24 hours ago. We're getting close," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said after the daylong talks finally ended well after sundown.
No final deal was reached. Lawmakers left the White House while their aides stayed on to continue negotiating, with the talks to resume today. The White House wants Obama to sign a bill in time for the State of the Union address next month.
The House and Senate have passed different versions of the measure, which Obama wants to expand health coverage to millions who lack it, end insurance company practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and slow the rate of growth of medical costs overall.
Hoyer and others said the day's talks ranged widely over numerous areas of disagreement between the House and Senate. A key point was Obama's demand for a tax on high-cost insurance plans, a proposal designed to slow the inexorable rise in health care costs. House Democrats oppose the idea. So, too, does organized labor.
The unusually long meeting of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other senior lawmakers underscored the urgency they and Obama felt about completing legislation on which they have staked so much.
The House and Senate passed the bills with just one Republican vote and the GOP was not invited to the White House talks.