Washington (CNN) –Top Democrats continued marathon negotiations on a comprehensive health care reform bill Friday, hoping to reach final agreement on key provisions by the end of the week.
House Democrats received a pep talk on Capitol Hill from former President Bill Clinton, who made his own unsuccessful push for change during the 1990s.
"We just had a powerful, sensible wind blown beneath our wings" by the former president, said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-California. Democrats are ready to "do what the people of America have been waiting for."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, declared that Congress will pass reform legislation "in the near future."
Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House want to send the bulk of the revised health care package to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office for a cost estimate as early as the end of the week, a senior leadership aide told CNN Thursday.
Hoyer, however, tried to address criticism of the rapid closed-door negotiations by promising Thursday that the final bill would be posted on the Internet for at least 72 hours before a final vote.
Democratic leaders are aiming to get the health care bill to President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law before the president's upcoming State of the Union address.
Adding to the Democrats' sense of urgency is the possibility of a GOP upset in a special election being held in Massachusetts next week to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. A Republican victory would strip Democrats of their current 60-member Senate supermajority, which is necessary to overcome unanimous GOP opposition to the Democratic version of health care reform.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, insisted Friday that the Democratic timetable had not been changed by the suddenly tight contest in Massachusetts.
"We were on this course" regardless, she told reporters. "We're on the path that we have always been on, from a time standpoint."
Democrats are "moving forward," she said. "We're making progress. We're establishing common ground."
Democratic leaders took a major step forward in their push to craft a final bill on Thursday, when they cut a deal to exempt union health insurance plans for several years from a proposed tax on expensive policies, according to labor chiefs involved in the talks.
Organized labor, a major force in Democratic Party politics, has been vehemently opposed to the idea of imposing a tax on what are called "Cadillac" health insurance plans.
Obama, on the other hand, supports the excise tax as a way to contain spiraling health care costs. The tax was included in the health care plan approved by the Senate in December. The House of Representatives excluded the tax from a separate bill it passed in November.
Under the deal reached in talks that stretched until 1:30 a.m. Friday, the proposed thresholds for taxing health plans would be raised from $23,000 to $24,000 for families and from $8,500 to $8,900 for individuals, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters.
Dental and vision benefits wouldn't be counted toward that amount after 2014, he said.
Health plans covered by union contracts would not be subject to the 40 percent tax until 2018 - a transition period union leaders said is comparable to those offered to other private insurers. The threshold for taxing other plans will be adjusted by 1 percent above the annual rate of inflation, and plans involving large numbers of women or the elderly would get breaks as well, Trumka said.
The changes will reduce the $150 billion expected to be raised over 10 years by about $60 billion, he said. And union plans would be able to enter the health care exchanges set up under the bill in 2017, he said.
Union opposition to the tax on Cadillac plans, which is shared by many liberal House Democrats, stems in part from the fact that labor negotiators frequently traded higher salaries for more generous health benefits in recent years.
Trumka warned earlier this week that congressional Democratic candidates could risk losing labor's support if the final health care bill included the tax.
Labor leaders now argue the changes they negotiated would help not only union members, who make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. workforce, but all working families as well.
But Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, on Thursday dismissed the plan as "a sweetheart deal."
"Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to this bill," he said. "Another sweetheart deal isn't going to turn that around."
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Thursday found much stronger support for the financing plan in the bill passed by the House. The bill would impose a 5.4 percent income tax surcharge on incomes higher than $500,000 for individuals or $1 million for couples. The survey found 61 percent of the public favors the House provision, while the Senate bill drew 29 percent support.
Trumka told reporters that leading Democrats were behind the compromise. But Pelosi said she had not seen anything in writing Thursday evening.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, a leading opponent of the excise tax, said the proposal is more fair than the current Senate bill.
"However, the devil is in the details, and I will reserve judgment on any compromise until I have had the time to review the proposal," he said in a written statement.
Obama did not directly address the plan as he addressed reporters ahead of a House Democratic Caucus meeting Thursday night. But he dared Republicans to run in the November midterm elections on a platform of rolling back "something that Washington has been talking about since Teddy Roosevelt was president."
"If Republicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have. If their best idea is to return to the bad policies and the bad ideas of yesterday, they are going to lose that
Controversial issues of abortion and immigration are not likely to be resolved before the CBO estimate, but because they would have no impact on the cost of the bill, negotiators could work out those details separately, the leadership aide said.
–CNN's Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh, Ted Barrett, Lisa Desjardins, Alan Silverleib and Matt Smith contributed to this report.