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Obama is setting a rigorous timeline to enact "comprehensive health care reform" by year's end, though he didn't precisely define what that would entail. His advisers say while he hopes for a bipartisan measure, he won't be deterred by ideological fights or interest group opposition.
Unlike Clinton, Obama isn't offering a specific plan, but rather is outlining general principles to guide the Democratic-controlled Congress as it writes the measure: increased coverage, improved services and better control of costs. The House and Senate will be left to do the heavy lifting.
Although he proposed a plan during the campaign, Obama said that he's open to any solution -- from an entirely private system to more government involvement -- as long as it meets his general priorities. "I just want to figure out what works," he said.
Still, there is a fault line between Democrats and Republicans over the role of government in the health care system -- and that could complicate Obama's push to ensure health care for everyone.
Signaling likely areas of contention ahead, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told Obama in a letter that his party was ready to work with the administration on health care but he also warned that the GOP would bristle at changes that lead to a government-run system and coverage expansions that don't come with curbs on costs.
In office just six weeks, Obama already has made one big move on health care. He proposed a budget that has a $634 billion "down payment" for expanded coverage over a 10-year period. The government will spend trillions on health care over the same period.
In hindsight, both supporters and opponents agree that Clinton made a series of missteps and miscalculations that doomed his plan from the outset.
With first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton leading the charge, the White House wrote the measure with little input from lawmakers or interest groups. Stakeholders on all sides complained they were shut out of the process.
Obama, even before he took office, used his campaign apparatus to encourage people to hold open meetings across the country to discuss the matter. The White House says more than 30,000 people attended more than 3,000 meetings in 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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