Senate Panel Approves a Health Care Bill, But Will it Pass?

Separate committee will decide how to finance $600 billion measure.

July 15, 2009 — -- Though a Senate committee approved one health care reform bill this morning and the House Democrats unveiled their own plan for health care reform yesterday, it remains to be seen which plan -- if any -- will get passed into law by Congress this year.

President Barack Obama called on lawmakers to "buck up" and move quickly with health care reform.

"We can do what we've done for so long and defer tough decisions for another day -- or we can step up and meet our responsibilities. In other words, we can lead," Obama said in the Rose Garden this afternoon.

In an interview with ABC News' Dr. Tim Johnson, the president reiterated that message.

"What we can't do is pretend that somehow with all the waste that's in the system -- and everybody acknowledges that -- that we can just keep on doing business as usual and somehow bend the curve on health care costs in a way that not only provides affordable coverage to families but also makes sure that we don't have the federal budget blowing up," Obama told Johnson today at the White House.

But Obama stopped short of indicating which Democratic plan he prefers.

"Both proposals will take what's best about our system today and make it the basis of our system tomorrow," he said in remarks earlier today.

In the ABC News interview he added that the final bill he signs has to have "strong incentives to help primary care physicians."

Watch "World News With Charles Gibson" tonight at 6:30 ET for the full report

The bill approved by the Senate health panel has a public health insurance option and mandates for employers and individuals. Approved along strict party lines, it does not deal with the controversial question of financing health care reform, the details of which are being negotiated more slowly by the Senate Finance Committee.

Senators on the health panel had considered the measure for three weeks. In that time, they considered 287 of 500 amendments filed. A total of 161 of those came from Republicans and were accepted. Thirty-six amendments were accepted from Democrats.

That effort led Sen. Chris Dodd, R-Conn., who is leading the panel in the absence of Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to say today, "while this is not a bipartisan bill, it is a bipartisan effort."

But Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the ranking Republican on the committee, said the committee should scrap the bill and start over to agree to a bipartisan measure that could gain support from Republicans. Anything less, he said, will ultimately be rejected by the country. Republicans have also decried an expansion of Medicaid envisioned by Democrats. They say the real financial brunt of such an expansion would fall on the states, which share the cost.

"Based on everything the president has promised and said he wanted in a health care reform bill, I don't see how he could ever sign this bill," Enzi said. "The HELP Democrats' plan makes a mockery of the president's promises."

Joined today by nurses as well as health panel Democrats George Miller, D-Calif., and Dodd, Obama said, "This progress should make us hopeful but it shouldn't make us complacent. It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and the Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess."

If lawmakers succeed in passing the bills in the House and Senate this summer, the tougher challenge will come in the fall, when they would try to resolve differences between the two versions of the bill.

A flurry of activity both on and off Capitol Hill signals an escalation of the long-standing debate. Health care groups are also fanning out across the Hill today to make their case. And a new television advertisement launched today by the Democratic National Committee urges moderate Democrats to support Obama's plan.

In the Senate: Dems Consider Taxing Health Insurance, Pharmaceutical Companies

To help pay for the health care plan, ABC News has learned Senate Democrats are considering new taxes on health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. The new taxes could bring in more than $100 billion, but were hotly opposed by the health industry.

Senate Democrats are also considering a new tax on soft drinks of 3 to 10 cents per can and a 1.5 percent increase in capital gains and dividends taxes.

Today Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, told ABC News' Jake Tapper he hopes the proposal to pay for health care reform that comes out of his panel will be bipartisan.

"I would think the Democrats would want it to be a bipartisan bill," said Grassley, R-Iowa. "I would think the president would. And the reason I say that is it's not just bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship. We're restructuring one sixth of the economy, and if you're going to reshuffle one-sixth of the economy, you ought to have a broad base of support coming from middle America."

Grassley also cited concerns with proposals on the table, including the public option that he said was synonymous with "a government-run insurance plan."

"What's eventually going to be bad about a government-run health insurance program is that the government's going to be setting rates," Grassley said. "And when you set rates like we have a record of doing in Medicare, 80 percent of what costs are, you're going to very much limit health care through the unavailability of health care professionals."

In the House: Dems Unveiled $1.04 Trillion Health Care Plan

The House bill proposes slapping a new surtax of up to 5.4 percent on those with incomes of more than $400,000 a year to help pay for the plan.

"This legislation is landmark legislation, and this is a defining moment for our country," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

The sweeping changes to the health care system would cover 97 percent of Americans and include a mandate requiring all Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine. Subsidies would be available to those with an income of less than $88,000.

The plan would also eliminate co-payments and deductibles for preventative care and there would be no denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. Additionally, a government-run insurance program would be created to compete with private insurance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, praised the bill Tuesday, calling the moment "historic and transformative."

"This bill is the starting point and a path to success," she said.

Republicans Oppose the Health Care Plan

Most Republicans are already vowing to oppose the plan.

"What we really have here is a bill that, without any question, will kill jobs, will limit access to health care, will raise taxes and will lead to a government takeover of health care," Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Tuesday.

Some Republicans compared the new plan with the $775 billion stimulus bill that was passed a month after Obama took office.

The stimulus has yet to stop unemployment from rising, even though Democrats pushing for it to pass said it would bring quick relief to the troubled economy.

"Here we are a few weeks before the recess, and you get the impression they willing -- they want to pass just anything they can pass as rapidly as they can," said Rep. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "And the reason I was comparing that to the stimulus, we know that that, at least so far, is a failure. It, once again, was sold to us on the basis that we had to do it tomorrow in order to prevent catastrophe."

ABC News' Avery Miller, Sadie Bass, Huma Khan, Yunji de Nies and Kate Barrett contributed to this report.