http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_health_care_overhaulBY RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writers Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar And Ben Feller, Associated Press Writers – 6 mins ago
WASHINGTON – Firing up his drive for health care overhaul, President Barack Obama pressed lawmakers Wednesday to step up to their responsibilities and move legislation this summer, even as his campaign organization rolled out television ads targeting reluctant senators.
A Senate panel cast a milestone vote to advance a bill, the first to act on Obama's goal. But the party-line decision in the health committee signaled a deepening rift in Congress. While Democrats respond to Obama's call for action with renewed determination, Republicans are using harsher words to voice their misgivings.
The political space for a bipartisan compromise that could win support from most sectors of society appeared to be narrowing by the hour. The Republican National Committee, in a fundraising appeal, warned of "Obamacare," a play on the failed "Hillarycare" of the 1990s.
The president, in a Rose Garden appearance with nurses, gave a nod to the goal of bipartisanship. But he left no doubt that he wants action above all else — and quickly. House committees prepared to vote as early as Thursday on their legislation.
Wednesday's Senate health committee vote "should make us hopeful — but it can't make us complacent," Obama said. "It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and the Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess." Obama wants each chamber to act this summer, so lawmakers can reconcile differences in their respective bills after Labor Day and put final legislation on his desk this fall.
Obama's all-out effort since he returned from his overseas trip last week has "galvanized things," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
But a senior Republican whom Obama courted only a few months ago to become his commerce secretary sounded alarm bells.
"This supposed health care fix is a health care failure and a disaster for the American people," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. "We still have time to turn this process around instead of steamrolling our country into a sub-par government-run plan, but it will require serious action from Democrats and Republicans and a pledge to put politics aside."
The debate is taking on the flavor of a campaign. In the crosshairs are moderate senators, Democrats and Republicans, whose votes could provide the edge in a closely divided Senate.
Obama's political organization launched a series of 30-second television ads on health care, which will begin airing Wednesday in Washington and on cable TV nationally. A version will run for two weeks on local stations in eight states — Arkansas, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, North Dakota, Nebraska and Ohio — to prod senators to back the health care effort.
In the ads, private citizens describe problems they've had with the medical system and say it's time for action. The sponsor is Organizing for America, Obama's campaign organization, which has become part of the national Democratic Party. The group would not reveal the cost.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., one of the lawmakers targeted, said the ads would not affect his decision. He has concerns that the evolving Democratic plans would give government too big a role.
Obama's goal is to cover the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans while trying to slow the rate of increase in health care costs. He supports a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, but he says he doesn't want to overturn the system of employer-sponsored health benefits that has served middle-class families for better than half a century. He wants the legislation to be fully paid for and the total cost kept around $1 trillion over 10 years.
The 13-10 vote in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee took the Senate only part of the way. Another panel, the Finance Committee, still has to unveil its approach. The plan is to combine the two bills for a floor vote.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., met Wednesday with committee Democrats to try to settle how to pay for the bill and other issues.
"We're just not quite there," Baucus said after the meeting. Obama has pushed Baucus to have a bill ready by week's end, but Baucus declined to say whether he'd made a timetable commitment to the president.
The health panel's $600-billion measure would require individuals to get health insurance and employers to contribute to the cost. The bill calls for the government to provide financial assistance with premiums for individuals and families making up to four times the federal poverty level, or about $88,000 for a family of four, a broad cross-section of the middle class.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said he regretted that no Republicans voted for the bill, but that it was more important to get good legislation than to get GOP votes.
"There is a value in achieving bipartisanship, but I will not sacrifice a good bill for that. That's not the goal here," said Dodd, who stood in as chairman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who is being treated for brain cancer.
‘‘SEC. 59B. TAX ON INDIVIDUALS WITHOUT ACCEPTABLE HEALTH CARE COVERAGE.
‘‘(a) TAX IMPOSED.—In the case of any individual who does not meet the requirements of subsection (d) at any time during the taxable year, there is hereby imposed a tax equal to 2.5 percent of the excess of—
‘‘(1) the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income for the taxable year, over
‘‘(2) the amount of gross income specified in section 6012(a)(1) with respect to the taxpayer.