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Health care vote expected by Feb.

WASHINGTON — House and Senate Democrats intend to bypass traditional procedures when they negotiate a final compromise on health care legislation, officials said Monday.

The move would exclude Republican lawmakers and reduce their ability to delay or force politically troubling votes in both houses.

The unofficial timetable calls for final passage by the time President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, probably in early February.

Democratic aides said the final compromise talks would essentially be a three-way negotiation involving top Democrats in the House and Senate and the White House. That structure gives unusual latitude to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

These officials said there are no plans to appoint a formal House-Senate conference committee, the method Congress most often uses to reconcile differing bills. Under that format, a committee chairman is appointed to preside, and other senior lawmakers from both parties and houses participate in typically perfunctory public meetings while the meaningful negotiations occur behind closed doors.

In this case, the plan is to skip the formal meetings, reach an agreement, then have the two houses vote as quickly as possible. A 60-vote Senate majority would be required in advance of final passage.

"We hope to get a bill done as soon as possible," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid.

The issue is so partisan that only one Republican, Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana, has cast a vote in favor of the legislation.

GOP leaders have vowed to try and block a final bill from reaching Obama's desk.

"This fight isn't over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Republican leader, said shortly before the Senate cleared its version of the bill last month.

Both houses have already passed legislation to remake the health care system, extending coverage to millions who lack it while cracking down on industry practices such as denying insurance on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.

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