WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's health reform drive got a shot in the arm Thursday as a Senate panel scheduled a key vote and the House of Representatives made progress toward finalizing a bill.
The Senate Finance Committee set for Tuesday a vote that would end several months of debate to reach a compromise on the health care overhaul that is a domestic priority of Obama's young administration. The Democratic majority hopes to gain the support of at least some Republicans.
The decision came a day after analysts at the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the draft bill would reduce the budget deficit by 81 billion dollars over 10 years at a total cost of 829 billion dollars.
The findings paved the way for a floor debate and vote in the full Senate.
Republicans, who have warned the bill could raise costs and increase the budget deficit, had required the budget estimate before they cast a vote.
"Today we stand closer than ever to fulfilling that fundamental promise, the one for which we have fought for more than 60 years," Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the chamber's floor.
Obama has placed his political viability on the line to reform a health care system beset by fast-rising costs that leave 46 million people in the United States without coverage.
Key House Democrats are seeking to merge three bills for a debate and vote in the full chamber.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers were "coming around the curve" on the health care debate after hundreds of hours of meetings and would submit three versions of the bill that include a "public option" to the CBO for a cost analysis.
The option is a new government-run insurance program Obama and liberal Democrats have said will increase competition in the insurance business, thus driving down costs. Republicans counter that the plans will instead drive up costs.
"There will be the votes for a public option and now it's a question of which one," Pelosi told reporters.
She also promised that "we will not take a bill to the floor, the president will not sign a bill that adds a dime to the deficit."
Both chambers of Congress will need to reconcile their versions before sending a bill for Obama to sign into law.
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