President Obama: We Are ‘On the Precipice’ of Health Reform

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With all eyes on the health reform debate, President Obama said Tuesday afternoon that Congress is “on the precipice” of passing an overhaul bill. He spoke to reporters after a White House meeting with the Senate Democratic caucus.

“There are still some differences that have to be worked on,” the president said. “This was not a roll call. This was a broad-based discussion about how to move forward.”
Mr. Obama said that there was agreement among caucus members on reforms that would reduce health care costs and new regulations that would “protect Americans from the worst practices of the health insurance industry.”

But he did not mention some of the controversial specifics of the bill that have stymied Senate Democratic leaders this week — including the question of whether it would include a buy-in option to expand Medicare to people ages 55 to 64.

The status of that proposal has ping-ponged back and forth over the past week, and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid now appears ready to drop it. Last week, a group of five liberal and five moderate Democrats tasked with finding a compromise that would satisfy supporters and detractors of a government-run public plan, proposed a solution that would have dropped the public option and instead offered an array of private, non-profit insurance plans administered by a federal agency, as well as the Medicare buy-in option. But that compromise failed to placate Independent [Sen. Joe Lieberman](http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/early-word-all-eyes-on-lieberman/) of Connecticut, a key swing vote, who said over the weekend that he would not vote for a bill with a Medicare buy-in either. On Tuesday, Lieberman said that he would vote for a reform bill — but only if both the public option and the Medicare buy-in were dropped. “I am getting to that position to where I can say what I wanted to say all along, that I’m ready to vote for health care reform,” he said. If no Republicans vote for reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will need the votes of all 58 Democrats and two Independents to pass a bill. Right now, at least one other Democrat says he’s still on the fence. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska told Politico before leaving for the meeting with the President that he still has concerns about abortion language in the bill, and other issues. “I’m not on the bill,” Nelson [told Politico](http://www.politico.com/livepulse/1209/Nelson_.html). “I have spoken with the president and he knows they are not wrapped up today. I think everybody understands they are not wrapped up today.” Watch the NewsHour tonight for more updates and analysis from [Naftali Bendavid](http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126057810767788145.html), Congressional Correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and [Amy Walter](http://www.nationaljournal.com/hotline/), Editor-in-Chief of the Hotline, the National Journal’s politics daily.