WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2009— -- Emerging from a private meeting with Senate Democrats at the White House this afternoon, President Obama declared that Congress is "on the precipice" of passing into law an overhaul of the nation's health care system.
Obama conceded that divisons remain among Democrats over the details of the bill, but expressed hope the measure will pass before Christmas.
"It is deficit-neutral, it bends the cost curve, it covers 30 million Americans who don't have health insurance and it has extraordinary insurance reforms," he said in a statement after the meeting.
White House officials say President Obama made the case to Democrats that this may be the last chance to make progress on health reform before the 2010 elections -- and before his political capital possibly diminishes later in his first term.
The meeting came just days after a tentative compromise that Democratic leaders had hoped could muster the necessary 60 votes crumbled as Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., took issue with a central feature of the compromise: allowing Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare.
According to the actuary for Medicare and Medicaid, the latest version of the bill would add $234 billion to health care costs in the next 10 years.
"I would have a hard time voting for it, because it had reportedly has some of the same infirmities that the public option did," Lieberman said.
But several Senators privy to the ongoing negotiations say the so-called Medicare buy-in proposal will likely be stripped from the Senate bill in order to achieve enough votes for passage, marking a major concession on behalf of liberal Democrats fighting to have a public option, or some kind of alternative.
Obama To Focus On Uniting 60 Senate Dems
Congressional and White House sources tell ABC News the Obama administration has been urging Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Democrats to give in to moderate holdouts and to move forward with a scaled-down bill that includes no public option and no Medicare buy-in.
The question is whether Senate liberals will agree, and, following that, if liberals in the House -- many of whom have said they would vote "no" on any bill without a public option -- will go along as well.
The latest version of the bill was crafted by a small group of 10 centrist and progressive Democrats, and sent last week to the Congressional Budget Office. Reid has yet to release details to Democrats and Republicans alike. The CBO could release their estimate of the health care costs as early as today.
"I am confident that by next week we will be on the way toward sending this bill to the president," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Monday.
If and when the Senate passes its health care overhaul bill, Senate Democrats will still need to reconcile their version of the legislation with that already passed by the House.
ABC News' Jake Tapper, Z. Byron Wolf and Kristina Wong contributed to this report.