Panels’ Work Over, Health Reform Faces Thorny Floor Debate

By ROBERT PEAR and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
The New York Times
October 3, 2009

WASHINGTON — With the Senate Finance Committee set to approve its health care bill this week, Democrats are tantalizingly close to bringing legislation that would make sweeping changes in the nation’s health care system to the floor of both houses of Congress.

Party leaders still face immense political and policy challenges as they combine rival proposals — two bills in the Senate and three in the House. But the broad contours of the legislation are in place: millions of uninsured Americans would get subsidized health benefits, and the government would move to slow the growth of health spending.

Senior Democrats said they were increasingly confident that a bill would pass this year. “I am Scandinavian, and we don’t like to overstate anything,” said Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and an architect of the Finance Committee bill. “But I have a solid feeling about the direction of events.”

President Obama, in his weekly address on Saturday, noted Friday’s dismal unemployment numbers and said the health care overhaul would bolster small businesses and create jobs.

Mr. Obama called the overhaul “a critical step in rebuilding our economy” and said he was working with his economic advisers “to explore additional options to promote job creation.”

Step by difficult step, the legislative process is lurching forward. Proponents say they see some momentum — more than they saw in Congress 15 years ago, when President Bill Clinton’s plan for universal health coverage collapsed.

As Senate Democrats try to secure the 60 votes needed to overcome a possible Republican filibuster, intricate details and big hurdles stand in their way. Republicans have said they will fight the legislation at every turn.

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