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Baucus, Kennedy Tell Obama They Plan to Move Health Overhaul Bill this Year

By Mary Agnes Carey, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

FEBRUARY 5, 2009 -- Two key Senate Democrats told President Obama Thursday that they remain committed to passing health care overhaul legislation this year.

"We must act to contain the growth of health care costs to ensure our economic stability; to help American businesses deal with the health care challenge; and to make sure that we are getting our money's worth. Incremental efforts will no longer suffice and we cannot afford to wait any longer," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) Chairman Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts wrote in their letter to Obama.

The lawmakers asked the president to "swiftly choose an exceptionally qualified and dedicated alternate nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to assist in our efforts."

On Tuesday, former Sen. Tom Daschle, who had been Obama's nominee to head HHS and a new White House Office of Health Reform, withdrew his name from consideration after it became public that he had paid nearly $140,000 in back taxes and interest on Jan. 2, on income from 2005, 2006 and 2007 and had collected more than $195,000 to give speeches to health care industry groups—the very sector President Obama has designated him to overhaul.

Both the Finance and HELP panels have been working on health care legislation. Last November, Baucus unveiled a wide-ranging plan to overhaul the nation's health care system which, among its provisions, would create a "health insurance exchange" where insurers could sell health coverage to the uninsured.
In their letter, Baucus and Kennedy said they had a "moral duty to ensure that every American can get quality health care."

"With your continued leadership and commitment, we remain certain that our goal of enacting comprehensive health care reform can be accomplished this year," they wrote.

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