Obama amends healthcare reform plan

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President Barack Obama tried to rejuvenate his stalled US healthcare reforms yesterday with a revised plan to make insurance coverage more affordable.

Obama will push the proposal at a bipartisan healthcare summit on Thursday in an uphill effort to break an impasse in the U.S. Congress, but the White House signaled it was ready to proceed without Republicans if needed to pass a reform bill.

The proposal and summit came as Obama tried to rally support for a sweeping healthcare overhaul that would restrain costs, tighten regulations on insurers and expand health coverage to tens of millions of Americans.

"We view this as the opening bid for the health meeting," Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, said of the proposal. "Hopefully this will move the process forward."

But Republicans declared the effort dead on arrival, condemning the Democratic president's plan as a warmed-over version of the unpopular healthcare bills passed last year by the Democratic-controlled Senate and House of Representatives.

They renewed their calls to scrap the bills and said the proposal was a bad sign for Thursday's summit.

"This week's summit clearly has all the makings of a Democratic infomercial for continuing on a partisan course that relies on more backroom deals and parliamentary tricks," House Republican leader John Boehner said.

The White House said Obama's plan would make it easier to bypass Republicans if necessary and ram through legislation by a process requiring a simple majority in the 100-member Senate rather than the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles.

Pfeiffer said no decision had been made on whether to follow that route in getting a final bill through Congress, but the president believed "the American people deserve an up-or-down vote on health reform."

"Our proposal is designed to give ourselves maximum flexibility to ensure we can get an up-or-down vote if the opposition decides they need the extraordinary step of filibustering health reform," Pfeiffer said, referring to a procedural tactic used to thwart legislation.

Democratic leaders have been scrambling to find a way to proceed on healthcare since losing their crucial 60th vote last month in a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts. The bills passed by the House and Senate must be merged into one and passed again before Obama can sign a plan into law.