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Senate Committee Approves Health Reform Legislation

The legislation would create a government-sponsored health insurance plan to compete with private insurers.

The committee was the first congressional panel to approve health reform legislation. The vote came a day after Democratic leaders in the House put forward a draft plan of their own, which would also create a government-sponsored public plan, and would be paid for partly by tax increases on the wealthy.

“This progress should make us hopeful but it can’t make us complacent,” Obama said Wednesday of the action in the House and Senate, in a White House Rose Garden speech. “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.”

Listen to the full speech here:

The Senate Health Committee legislation passed 13-10, in a party-line vote.

Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, decried what he called the “partisan” bill, saying that it would increase the deficit and cut wages and jobs.

But acting chair Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., told reporters that the bill reflected bipartisan contributions.

“Every member of this committee has had a contribution,” Dodd said, according to Politico. He pointed out that nearly 170 of the 200 GOP amendments were included in the final bill.

“Even though this wasn’t a bipartisan vote, it was a bipartisan effort […]There are numerous contributions – not just technical ones – in the bill,” said Dodd, who is filling in for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., the Health Committee chair who is battling brain cancer.

The bill would require every American to obtain health insurance, and would provide subsidies for families making up to four times the poverty level — nearly $90,000 for a family of four.

It would also require employers to provide insurance for their employees or pay an annual fee of $750, although companies with fewer than 25 employees would be exempt.

The bill also includes some required changes to the insurance industry — mandating, for example, that insurance companies could not refuse to cover individuals based on pre-existing conditions.

The bill’s next challenge will come when it must be merged with a bill from the Senate Finance Committee, which is charged with figuring out how changes to the health care system would be funded. That committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., has fallen behind schedule as it searches for solutions to perhaps the most thorny issue in health care reform — how to pay for it.

But Dodd told reporters he remains confident that the Finance Committee will find a workable solution:

“I’m confident Max Baucus will get a bill,” he said, according to Politico. “I have every confidence Max Baucus will get the job done.”