Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama met Wednesday with House Democratic leaders who face the likelihood of having a final health care bill look much more like the Senate's version than their measure.
The meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen of the three House committees that approved health care legislation was part of efforts by Obama and top Democrats to merge the separate House and Senate bills into a final version capable of winning approval in both chambers.
After the 90-minute meeting, Pelosi said progress had been made on coming up with a merged bill, but more work remained.
"We will bring the bill to the floor when we are ready, and hopefully that will be very soon," Pelosi said. Asked about issues on which the House and Senate bills agree and differ, Pelosi responded that the final bill would make health insurance more affordable and hold the insurance industry more accountable.
"We really have to be able to sell it, not just to our Democratic caucus but to the American people," added Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, who also was in the meeting with Obama.
Senior Democratic sources say Democrats are prepared to short-circuit the traditional legislative process of a formal conference committee comprising House and Senate members to exclude their Republican counterparts during final congressional health care deliberations.
Democrats are trying to prevent the Republicans from using Senate rules to slow the push for final passage of a comprehensive reform bill, the sources said.
"There's clearly a tactic of slowing down progress on behalf of the American people," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday of GOP maneuvers in the Senate. When asked if Obama supported avoiding a formal conference committee, Gibbs said: "The president wants to get a bill to his desk as quickly as possible."
Republicans, in turn, are pushing to allow open media coverage of the final negotiations - a move many observers believe would complicate House and Senate Democrats' ability to forge a consensus.
The full House of Representatives is not scheduled to return from vacation until January 12; the Senate meets January 19. But top representatives and senators, as well as their aides, have already been discussing the issue.
Congressional leaders are working to merge an $871 billion Senate bill and $1 trillion House bill that differ on several critical details.
Democratic leaders hope to get a bill to Obama's desk by early February, near the time of the president's State of the Union address, several Democratic sources have said. Pelosi, D-California, admitted last month that this deadline could slip.
Should the measure that emerges from House-Senate negotiations become law, it would constitute the biggest expansion of federal health care guarantees since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid more than four decades ago.
Formal House-Senate negotiations, under the ordinary legislative process, would likely have started shortly after both houses of Congress reconvene.
In order to hold a formal conference, the committee members from both the House and Senate must be formally appointed by both bodies, with resolutions passed by both chambers. One Democratic leadership aide said getting those resolutions passed in the Senate could delay and even derail Democratic efforts, because Republicans would be allowed to offer amendments and hold lengthy debates on the resolutions to appoint conferees.
Another potential complication: a recent request from C-SPAN head Brian Lamb to allow television coverage of House-Senate negotiations.
C-SPAN is a non-profit cable entity largely devoted to coverage of Congress.
"Hard-working families won't stand for having the future of their health care decided behind closed doors," House GOP Leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a letter to Lamb released Tuesday. "Secret deliberations are a breeding ground for more of the kickbacks, shady deals and special-interest provisions that have become business as usual in Washington. Too much is at stake to have a final bill built on payoffs and pork-barrel spending."
Gibbs avoided commenting directly on the C-SPAN request Wednesday, saying the health care debate so far had been fully covered in the news media.
Democrats said it was impossible to predict what kind of coverage might be possible, given that it is unclear at best if there will be any formal negotiations.
"We will continue to keep the American people informed," promised Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a member of the House Democratic leadership.
"There has never been a more open process for any legislation," Pelosi asserted. But "we will do what is necessary to pass the bill."
Many observers believe the more liberal House measure will be largely forced to conform to the Senate bill. The traditionally fractious 60-member Senate Democratic caucus struggled to unify behind a single measure, and needs to remain united in order to overcome solid Republican opposition.
However, the House also narrowly passed its health care bill on a 220-215 vote.
The different approach to financing in the House and Senate bills is one of the many differences to be reconciled.
The House measure is paid for through a combination of a tax surcharge on wealthy Americans and new Medicare spending reductions. Individuals with annual incomes over $500,000 - as well as families earning more than $1 million - would face a 5.4 percent income tax surcharge.
The Senate bill also cuts Medicare by roughly $500 billion. But instead of an income tax surcharge on the wealthy, it would impose a 40 percent tax on insurance companies that provide what are called "Cadillac" health plans valued at more than $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families.
Proponents of the tax on high-end plans argue it's one of the most effective ways to curb medical inflation. However, House Democrats oppose taxing such policies because it would hurt union members who traded higher salaries for more generous health benefits.
Back in December, Obama predicted the final bill will probably end up with a variation of both the income tax surcharge and the tax on high-end plans.
The Senate bill also would hike Medicare payroll taxes on families making over $250,000; the House bill does not.
Another key sticking point is the dispute over a government-run public health insurance option. The House plan includes a public option; the more conservative Senate package would instead create non-profit private plans overseen by the federal government.
Pelosi, when asked about the public option on Tuesday, said that Democrats' goal has always been to hold insurance companies accountable while increasing competition and affordability.
"There are other ways to do that" aside from the public option, she asserted. Insurance companies will be held accountable and will "be crying out for the public option one of these days."
Updated: 5:17 p.m.
–CNN's Dana Bash, Lisa Desjardins, Alan Silverleib, Deirdre Walsh and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.
Yes, get it through ASAP.
Bipartisanship is lip service!
If necessary, use reconciliation!
these democrats are absolutely ridiculous.
"...."There's clearly a tactic of slowing down progress on behalf of the American people," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday ...."
Yeah, why would we want to do anything on behalf of the American people, huh Gibbs? Let's just shove through this wreckless package, all in the name of allowing Obama to further change and cripple the country like he's done with Cap N Tax, Stimupork, assigning rights to terrorists...and now the healthcare fiasco. Why should we trust ANYONE in this administration? OBama's obviously crooked, as is the rest of his appointees and henchmen....Americans, we need healthcare costs looked at, not quality and availability of care. This whole charade is nothing but a ploy to enslave hardworking people.....irony...blacks voting in a president that's fixing to enslave them....
Please add a medicare buy-in for seniors 55 and older. Their jobs are not coming back.
Doing this process behind closed doors does more harm then having it done in public in front of C-Span and having Republicans slow it down. Where is the harm is slowing it down? Most of it won't go into effect until 2013. This just proves the process is corrupt and the Democrats are afraid to have it exposed to the light of day. Obama, Pelosi and Reid are a bunch of lying corrupt frauds. They obviously have a lot they want to hide.
"There has never been a more open process for any legislation," Pelosi asserted
Oh really? Did she say that with a straight face? Then why is it behind closed doors? What do the moonbats have to hide and why did Obama break his promise to the citizens?
I'm glad they are shutting out the Republicans out of the final deliberations. When you have everyone in your party (except for one lone congressman) vote NO you shown that you have no willingness to compromise, and full deserve what you get.
I'm sure the Republicans' invitation got lost in the mail.
Open and transparent, huh? All the negotiations on C-SPAN, right? Sunlight the best dissinfectant, right? These tools couldn't be more full of crap if they were an out house at a chili cook-off.
But the out house would smell better than this stinking lot.
The final secretive process to rob taxpaying Americans and give the money to the dope smoking, non working, non taxpaying Oprah watchers has begun. There is no reform like waste and fraud control, or tort reform in the secretive bill, just more cost for middle class Americans. Obama lied and continues to lie. Obama and every democrat who votes for this is lying and should be tossed out in 2010. The liar in chief needs to go in 2012
I, too, am glad that the republicans are being shut out because this whole corrupt, stinking, awful socialist takeover will be totally in the hands of democrats who will take a severe beating at the polls in the next two elections. Barry Obama....Worst President Ever and the best thing to ever happen to the republican party.
love that the president only meets with his side of the aisle. real bi-partisan work going on here. i would love to see the president have a meeting with the republican representatives.
Transparency at it's best!
If Obama campaigns for President again in 2012 ( doubtful ), it will be very difficult for him to explain the outright deliberate partisan political manuevering here. Americans do have a certain level of tolerance for ugly politics. Let's see Axelrod and Gibbs try and spin this into something the American public would tolerate.
Isn't this how the GOP and you right leaning conservatives reacted to Medicare and Social Security? You probably think all people on welfare should be cleansed too.
Who cares about the Republicans, they don't care about us. Republicans have been selling wolf tickets too long and it's time to show them we won't be bullied any more.
The Dems are not only blocking the Repuplicans, but they are blocking the American public out of the process. That is Un-American, plain and simple. Obama LIED about televising the health care negotiations on CSPAN.
It actually is amazing listening to the talking points each side of this stream...both dems and republicans are horrible. They are each subserviant to their respective lobbies. People who say that republicans should not be invited because all they do is voted NO...Well if you were not allowed to be part of the process, why should you vote yes. People who argue about not being part of the process, should not spend their time on the air complaining about it, they should be using that time to educate America on alternatives
Why would you not want to make the debates public?? The amount of outright fraud and givebacks to all special interests in this bill is freightening....Let the light shine
When are Pelosi and Reid going to jump ship a.k.a. Dodd and Dorgan.
Then maybe some reasonable people can take control.
We have government run health care now. It is called MEDICARE and MEDICAID. Both are failing and no one seems to care to fix the existing mess soooo....They want to start over with a new health care bill and spend a bunch of new money. Lets expand MEDICARE to cover the 30 MIL or so this watered down bill covers. Then refund it properly so that we dont have to FIX it every 10 years. In short order, do your job, come up with a compromise, fix what is already broken, and QUIT RIPPING OFF THE US TAXPAYER!!!
Yeah...more work needs to be done to figure out how the stealthly increase the taxes on everyone but her buddies and loyal voting blocks. Best way to do so...keep it secret! No CSPAN, no Repubicans, and probably some threat of career destruction to those in the meetings if they talk about the proceeding.
Nancy your day's are coming to an end as house speaker thank god for our fore father's for creating term limit's .
Yes very salesman like statement for a salesman like scam.
We can call it hypocrisy. But maybe we can just call it for what it really is: another blatant instance of outright lying by Obama and the totally out-of-touch democratic leadership. Transparency?? Oh, never mind...he was just kidding about that. Bi-partisanship?? Oh, well, its only bi-partisanship if his opponents simply become "yes" men. Heaven forbid that anyone might disagree with the new American Dictator's policies, no matter how ridiculous or partisan or socialistic they might be.
Let's face it, American democracy as designed by the founding fathers is slipping away. Its been hijacked by a bunch of self-serving, ill-informed, power-mad megalomaniacs who would rather drive the country off a cliff then do anything sensible.
Feel so sorry for democrats and in particular Obama. You tell one lie like Lenin and Stalin did and they right away brand you as a lying dictator and communist. Unfortunately for Obama, Peolsi and Reid, the have told so many lies during this process, I can only hope that and impeachment and treason trial awaits each one of them.