- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2010

With the backroom dealing under way to finish the health care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday said Democrats are “very close” to merging the House and Senate versions by overcoming key differences on issues such as abortion and the creation of a public insurance option.

Mrs. Pelosi and key House committee chairmen met for nearly two hours with President Obama at the White House, where the speaker later downplayed sticking points between the two chambers.

“The truth is that there’s so much agreement in the bill but sometimes we approach the issues differently,” the California Democrat told reporters. “So we have to figure out what the best approach is to the issues.”

Unlike the Senate version, the House bill includes a government-run insurance plan. It also has tougher language preventing federal dollars from funding abortion procedures. The two bills also differ significantly on how to finance the massive overhaul effort.

Mr. Obama has refrained from backing one bill over the other, but has held numerous meetings with congressional Democrats to keep the legislative process moving on his top domestic initiative.

Officials did not give a timeline for final passage.

“We will bring the bill to the floor when we are ready. And hopefully that will be soon,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Pelosi have drawn fire for negotiating the bill’s endgame in secret, despite promises to be transparent. In Mr. Obama’s case, he vowed on more than one occasion to air deliberations over health care on C-SPAN for the public to view.

The White House has refused to comment on that broken pledge, the controversy over which was reignited this week after the public affairs network sent a letter requesting authority to broadcast the negotiations.

“The president wants to get a bill to his desk as quickly as possible,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday.

One of the Democratic leaders who met with Mr. Obama, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, is currently under investigation for multiple ethics violations. Mr. Gibbs defended his attendance, dismissing the notion that Mr. Obama would be wary of including the New York Democrat in the deliberations.

“He’s meeting with … committee chairs among the three relevant committees in which health care went through,” Mr. Gibbs said. “I think everybody understands that, as part of the openness of the debate that we’ve had, that legislation, obviously, had to go through the Ways and Means Committee.”

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