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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to apologize for comparing Republican opposition to the health care bill to the debate over slavery a century-and-a-half ago.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Reid said Republicans who have called on him to apologize were taking his comments out of context and that he was merely trying to make a comparison about the historic nature of the health care debate

“At pivotal points in American history, the tactics of distortion, delay have certainly been present,— Reid said. “They’ve been used to stop progress, that’s what we’re talking about here, that’s what’s happening here, that’s very clear. But the point I made [is] no more, no less. Anyone who willingly distorts my comments is only proving my point.—

On Monday, Reid accused Republicans of being on the wrong side of history in their near unanimous opposition to the health care reform bill.

“Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: Slow down. Stop everything. Let’s start over,— Reid said. “If you think you have heard these same excuses before, you are right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, ‘Slow down. It is too early. Let’s wait. Things aren’t bad enough.’—

Meanwhile, Reid said a group of Democratic centrists and liberals were making progress on key parts of the bill, including a potential compromise that would eliminate a public health insurance option but expand Medicare and Medicaid. But he declined to give details of the negotiations.

“The purpose of legislation is to build consensus,— Reid said. “That’s what we’re doing. … We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.—

He also said he believes it is still possible to pass a bill by the end of the year.

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