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Obama's meeting with Democrats and Republicans could mark a final push to pass a reform bill, with or without the Republicans.
President Obama shakes hands with Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas during the talks Thursday at Blair House, across from the White House
This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
This week, President Obama led a meeting of Democratic and Republican lawmakers to discuss health reform. Thursday's meeting lasted more than six hours and was broadcast live on television and the Internet.
Some experts think the president could be making his last major push to get a health care bill through Congress. He urged the two sides to look for common ground.
BARACK OBAMA: "I hope that this isn't political theater where we are just playing to the cameras and criticizing each other, but instead we are actually trying to solve the problem."
But it did not take long for the health care meeting to become heated. Republicans said the majority Democrats in Congress had ignored them in writing legislation.
LAMAR ALEXANDER: "Our country's too big, too complicated, too decentralized for Washington, a few of us here, just to write a few rules about remaking seventeen percent of the economy all at once."
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said cutting health care costs step by step is better than the Democrats' plan.
LAMAR ALEXANDER: "So our view, with all respect, is that this is a car that can't be recalled and fixed, and that we ought to start over."
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democrats would not start the legislative process all over again. She urged the lawmakers at the meeting to remember all of the American families that are struggling to pay for medical care.
NANCY PELOSI: "What we do here must be relevant to their lives. And for them, they don't have time for us to start over."
At the end of the day, even President Obama admitted that differences between the two sides may be too great for compromise.
BARACK OBAMA: "At least we will have better clarified for the American people what the debate is about."
Democratic leaders say they are hopeful that some good will come out of the meeting. But they also made it clear that they are willing to act alone, if necessary, to pass a health care bill.
Democrats in the Senate have lost their sixty-vote supermajority needed to block any effort by Republicans to kill legislation. But the Democrats could try to pass a health care bill using a process called reconciliation. It requires only a simple majority of fifty-one votes.
On Monday, for the first time, President Obama offered his own version of a plan to breathe new life into the legislation in Congress. His proposal calls for insuring thirty million more Americans at a cost of about one trillion dollars over ten years. Republicans have a plan to insure three million more Americans at a cost of sixty billion dollars for the same period.
The Republicans propose taking smaller steps to reform the health care system. Their ideas include permitting Americans to shop for health insurance in other states and expanding health care savings accounts.
Democrats call the Republicans the party of "no." But on Wednesday, thirteen Republicans supported a jobs bill passed by the Senate. It combines a tax cut for employers and spending for road projects in an effort to reduce unemployment. The fifteen billion dollar bill now goes to the House.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake with Paula Wolfson and Elizabeth Lee. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts are at voaspecialenglish.com, where you can also comment on our programs. I'm Steve Ember.