Tentative tax deal made for health bill

WASHINGTON — Union leaders bowed Thursday to White House demands for a new tax on high-cost insurance plans as part of health care legislation taking final shape. "We are on the doorstep" of success, President Obama said.

The tentative agreement on the tax, which included significant concessions by the administration, was disclosed as lawmakers set an informal timetable of today for a compromise on the health care bill that Obama made a top priority in taking office a year ago.

Democrats expressed the hope that the agreement would quickly open the way for progress on other key issues where House and Senate-passed bills differ, as well as attempts by the White House to squeeze additional financial concessions from drugmakers, nursing homes and other health care providers.

The events came as senior lawmakers spent parts of a second consecutive day at the White House for bargaining over terms of a final compromise, and Obama gave a speech to rank-and-file House Democrats in a late-afternoon appearance in the Capitol complex.

Referring to polls that show lagging support for the legislation, he told Democrats, "I know how big a lift this has been."

In remarks that look ahead to the fall campaign, he added, "If Republicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up for the status quo and by standing up for insurance companies over American families, that is a fight I want to have."

Later in a closed-door session with lawmakers, Obama said that once the bill is signed, he intends to travel coast to coast in a series of election-year appearances designed to trumpet the changes it would make, according to one participant in the meeting.

Republicans are nearly unanimously opposed to the legislation, and have made clear that they intend to try to turn it to their advantage in midterm elections this fall in which 37 Senate seats and all 435 House seats are at stake.

The president wants legislation to expand health care to millions who lack it, crack down on insurance industry practices such as denial of benefits on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and slow the growth of health care costs generally.