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HELP Passes Health Care Overhaul

Updated: 12:47 p.m.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has passed its massive health care reform bill, 13-10, on a party-line vote.

The measure, which would establish a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers, is the first health care bill to be fully written in either chamber.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who filled in for ailing HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), said he had tried to give Republicans numerous opportunities to modify the bill to their liking, but that a measure that gives more Americans access to affordable health care was more important than bipartisanship.

“I will not sacrifice a good bill for that,— he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), however, said the measure was fatally flawed.

“It’s a very partisan bill,— he said. “It will ultimately turn the government into a provider of last resort.—

President Barack Obama, who has been upping the pressure on Congressional Democrats to act on a measure before the August recess, commended the HELP Committee’s progress, but also urged other Members to move expeditiously on the issue.

“The HELP committee’s success should give us hope, but it should not give us pause,— Obama said in a written statement. “It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess.—

The White House is particularly concerned about progress in the Finance Committee, where Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is seeking to craft a bill that will bring Republicans on board. Baucus could unveil his bill as early as Thursday, with an eye toward marking it up next week.

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders unveiled their health package on Tuesday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is working to tamp down internecine divisions over the proposal to ensure its passage within the next two weeks.

Kennedy, in a statement with a Hyannis Port, Mass., dateline, thanked Dodd for his leadership on the measure and said that while he wasn’t in committee to cast a vote, “know that I am with you in heart and mind and soul, and I wish very much that I could be with you in person.— Kennedy has been absent from the Senate for much of the last year battling brain cancer.

“I could not be prouder of our committee. We have done the hard work that the American people sent us here to do. We have considered hundreds of proposals. Where we have been able to reach principled compromise, we have done so,— Kennedy said.

“Where we have not been able to resolve our differences, we have treated those with whom we disagree with respect and patience. I thank all the members of our committee — Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike — for their dedication and devotion to the great cause of quality, affordable health care for all our people.—