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President rallies Senate Democrats on health bill

Mon., Dec. 7, 2009

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama made a rare Sunday visit to the Capitol to urge a fractious Democratic caucus to pull together to pass landmark health care legislation.

Obama made no mention of a government-run insurance plan, abortion or other key issues that lawmakers are attempting to resolve in closed-door meetings.

Instead, he used the 45-minute session to stress the Senate’s “historic opportunity to provide stability and security for those who have insurance, affordable coverage for those who don’t, and bring down the cost of health care for families, small businesses and the government,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters after the meeting that negotiators were inching toward consensus on the public option. He said he still aims to hold a final vote on the $848 billion package before the chamber adjourns for the Christmas break.

“There are still a few things we need to work out in the bill, but the issues are being narrowed as we speak,” he said. “Progress is being made, and that’s not just talk.”

After working through the weekend, the Senate will reconvene today for an eighth day of debate and potentially the first controversial amendment, addressing the issue of abortion coverage. After the abortion vote, expected today or Tuesday, the Senate could tackle another high-profile amendment: a bipartisan bid to allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

Meanwhile, 10 moderate and progressive Democrats tapped by Reid are expected to continue daily meetings aimed at reaching a compromise on the public option, along with improving small-business provisions in the bill.

One potential alternative being discussed Sunday would create a national coverage plan operated by private insurers but run by the Office of Personnel Management, which administers health coverage for federal workers.

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