The White House's health care overhaul passed its first congressional committee Wednesday on a party-line vote as backers of President Obama rolled out a new ad campaign to sway undecided lawmakers and rally public support.
In a 13-10 vote, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee supported a $600 billion bill that would create a public health insurance program and require Americans to purchase insurance. The committee was the first of five Capitol Hill bodies working on the reform.
The president is "willing to spend whatever capital, in his words, to achieve the result," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and acting chairman of the HELP committee.
The vote came as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) released a new round of television advertisements targeting the states of swing-vote senators, asking viewers to contact Congress in support of the bill. The DNC did not release the cost of the advertising.
The ads are focused in states with moderate or influential members, including Arkansas, Maine, Florida Louisiana and several Midwestern states.
"The naysayers and the cynics still doubt we can do this," Mr. Obama said during an appearance at the White House with the American Nurses Association.
"But it wasn't too long ago that those same naysayers doubted that we'd be able to make real progress on health care reform. And thanks to the work of key committees in Congress, we are now closer to the goal of health reform than we have ever been."
Meanwhile, a plan appeared to be forming in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. Sens. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, suggested that the committee would include a co-op in its reform bill. That would make it the only bill not to include a public plan, but the only one that could receive broad Republican support.
The committee is still grappling with funding the plan under a White House deadline to present something this week. Numerous members dismissed the pressure to release a bill by week's end.
"I'm just going to do my work here, and they can issue all the timelines they want," Ms. Snowe said.
Mr. Schumer also called on a tax or fee for insurance companies, which are poised to receive 40 million new customers from potential mandates requiring health insurance. The plan, which would raise $75 billion to $100 billion, has the support of most Democrats and some Republicans on the Finance Committee, he said. It would help the committee in its attempt to fund the remaining $320 billion in the bill.
Several moderate freshman members met with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, and a group of moderate Republicans met with Mr. Obama, as pressure to introduce bills mounted. Congress faces intense pressure to wrap up markup and floor votes of its reform bills before leaving in August, while also reviewing Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.
Also Wednesday, the House began markup proceedings in one committee on its own health care reform bill. The House is working on a separate bill from the Senate health committee, but it contains many of the some properties, including a public option and requirements that all individuals obtain insurance and all employers must help fund it. It also has more generous assistance for the poor and small businesses.
By Mark Mix
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