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USA Today: Pelosi on health: Overhaul is closer; Dems can squeeze bill's costs, she says

By John Fritze

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday she is confident Congress will advance an overhaul of the nation's health care system despite divisions within her own party and mounting opposition from outside groups over its cost.

As House and Senate lawmakers wrestle with how to pay the price of covering the nation's 46 million uninsured -- more than $1 trillion in the first decade -- the California Democrat told USA TODAY's editorial board that the best approach is to rely on savings rather than taxes.

'There's, I believe, more to be squeezed out,' Pelosi said, adding that Democrats hope to bring down the costs of the bill. 'Many members think that there's more to be squeezed from hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and docs.'

Pelosi's remarks came as President Obama kept pressure on Congress to vote for comprehensive health care legislation before lawmakers go home for the August recess. Obama has scheduled a news conference tonight at 8 ET -- his fourth in prime-time -- that is expected to focus on health care.

'There is a tendency in Washington to accentuate the differences instead of underscoring common ground,' Obama said Tuesday from the White House. 'But make no mistake: We are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need, and we're going to get the job done.'

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and other Republicans have criticized a new tax on families earning more than $350,000 a year that's in the House legislation. Some House Democrats also have raised concerns about long-term costs and the bill's effect on small businesses.

Pelosi said the issues raised by the coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats, known as the Blue Dogs, are ones 'everybody would identify with.' In response to Republican criticism, she said Democrats are open to bipartisan ideas as long as they expand coverage and drive down costs.

'If you have a better idea as to how to do that, put it on the table,' Pelosi said.

The bill, which stalled this week in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, provides government subsidies to help low-income families pay for insurance and requires large employers to provide benefits or face a fine. It also includes a government-run health insurance program that would compete with private insurers.

In response to Pelosi's suggestion that more savings can be found, Rick Pollack, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, said his members are already doing their part. The group said earlier this month it would identify $155 billion in savings over the next decade.

'We think that's a substantial contribution,' Pollack said. 'They ought not to be looking at people who have already made a contribution.'