WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats got a sobering glimpse of what it would look like if their ambitious health care overhaul ran into a wall – and quickly pulled back to regroup and get moving again.

Trying to regain the initiative, House Democrats on Friday unveiled draft legislation they said would cover virtually all of the nation’s nearly 50 million uninsured as President Barack Obama has promised. However, they offered few details on how to pay for it.

The president welcomed their action as “a major step toward our goal of fixing what is broken about health care while building on what works.”

But in the Senate, two committees were getting bogged down, struggling to cope with a trillion-dollar-plus pricetag over 10 years. Their House colleagues simply steered away from costs and focused on the promised benefits of the legislation.

Republicans weren’t cutting them any slack and sharpened their criticism. “I fear this plan will force tens of millions of Americans to lose their current health care coverage,” said Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., one the top GOP lawmakers on health.

The Obama White House played down the turmoil as nothing more than inside-Washington drama.

“We continue to put one foot in front of the other in the march toward health care reform,” declared press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Major provisions of the 850-page House bill would impose new responsibilities on both individuals and employers to get coverage, end insurance company practices that deny coverage to the sick and create a new government-sponsored plan to compete with private companies.

The insurance industry said it had major problems with the proposal for a government plan but stopped short of declaring outright opposition to the overhaul.

House Democrats say they won’t reveal how they intend to pay for their plan until later. Higher taxes on upper-income households appear likely, but broad levies – even a federal sales tax – are also under discussion. Democrats say spending more now to revamp health care will save money later.

“Is this going to bring down the cost of health insurance? You bet your sweet life,” said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, one of three panels working on the House bill.

The House leaders’ news conference capped a week in which the health care overhaul effort seemed to stumble at the starting line.

A $1.6-trillion cost estimate forced the Senate Finance Committee to delay introduction of its bill as members sought ways to scale it back. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee made little progress as it considered amendments to an incomplete bill.

The whole enterprise is “basically a gridlock,” said John McCain, R-Ariz.

“This is not reform,” added McCain, Obama’s opponent in last year’s presidential election. “This is why we should start over.”

Democrats had a more positive description of the scene playing out across the Capitol.

“This is just tedious hard work,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. “It’s just slogging through options.”

Despite the heightened anxiety, the shape of the debate was growing clearer.

On one side is the House Democrats’ sweeping health care bill. It would require all individuals to obtain health insurance and force employers to offer coverage to their workers, with exemptions for small businesses. A new public health insurance plan, strongly opposed by Republicans, would compete with private companies within a new health care purchasing “exchange” where people could shop for coverage.

Government subsidies would help the poor buy care, and seniors in the Medicare program would pay less for their prescription drugs.

To pay for it all, House Democrats are considering everything from taxing soda to raising income taxes on people earning more than $200,000 to imposing a federal sales tax.

On the other side is the House Republican plan, which would focus on trying to help small businesses and self-employed people find private coverage.

Searching for the elusive middle ground are a small group of senators on the Senate Finance Committee, which had to scale back its own initial plan when cost estimates topped $1.6 trillion.

The end result may be a bill that’s more affordable but covers fewer of the millions of uninsured.

The earlier Finance Committee draft would have helped provide coverage for people making up to four times the federal poverty level, or about $88,000 for a family of four. The new plan would limit insurance subsidies to those making up to $66,000.

The Finance panel also is looking at leaving a new public insurance plan out of its bill, instead creating nonprofit co-ops to offer insurance in competition with private companies, according to an outline obtained by The Associated Press. The co-ops could accept federal loans for startup operations but would have to repay the money.


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