Harry Reid Hopes to Bring Health Legislation to Vote by Christmas

Debate on healthcare legislation has started in the US Senate.

The issue, a key domestic priority for President Barack Obama, is provoking fierce political battles and has divided people throughout the country.

One of the most contested elements in the proposed legislation are plans for a government-backed "public option" for healthcare coverage to compete with private insurers, BBC News reports.

Meanhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid predicted Monday he'll have the votes to enact a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health care laws following a marathon debate that could keep the Senate in session every weekend until Christmas.

The Nevada Democrat told USA TODAY that he'll keep his colleagues working on President Obama's top domestic priority "as long as necessary" and concedes "we have some things to work out." Reid, who turns 70 on Wednesday, said he wants "a bill done by Christmas." Achieving that goal is one of the toughest challenges he's faced in Congress, he said.

Disagreements over coverage of abortions and a proposed government-run health insurance program to compete with private insurers are the two biggest threats to the bill, Reid said.

He acknowledged he's not ready for a final vote. "I wouldn't want to have one today," he said, USA Today reports.

News agencies also report, w ith Republicans united in opposition and conservative Democrats and the Senate's two independents continuing to express reservations, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) faced a daunting challenge in building the filibuster-proof majority needed for passage.

He promised to keep the Senate working through weekends on the 2,074-page, $849-billion bill in hopes of bringing it to a vote by Christmas and landing it on President Obama's desk for signing before the end of January.

And he sought to remind Democrats that, after investing so much time and political capital in the healthcare issue, the price of failure could be high.

Republicans and the insurance industry, however, sought to focus on those consumers the report said were likely to see higher premiums.

"A bill that's being sold as a way to reduce costs actually drives them up," McConnell said.

"This is the latest report to confirm that the current healthcare reform proposal fails to bend the healthcare cost curve," said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry lobbying organization.

"While each of us may not say 'yes' to each word in this bill as it currently reads, let us at least admit that simply saying 'no' is not enough," said Reid, opening debate on legislation that marks the most ambitious effort in decades to provide near-universal health insurance coverage, slap new regulations on insurance companies and curb the skyrocketing costs of healthcare , The Los Angeles Times reports.

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