Page last updated at 22:35 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 23:35 UK

Senate setback for health reform

President Obama speaks at Shaker Heights High School, Ohio
Passing a healthcare reform bill is a top priority for Mr Obama

The US Senate says it will not be able to vote on a US healthcare reform bill by August, in a setback to President Barack Obama's proposed timetable.

But Mr Obama said he still wanted to see the bill passed by year's end.

He said his intention was not to add to the country's fiscal deficit of over $1 trillion, but to address it by tackling spiralling health costs.

But Republicans and leading Democrats have objected to the rush, saying the bill will be taken up after the summer.

"I think that it's better to have a product that is one that's based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than trying to jam something through," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid told reporters.

The BBC's Jane O'Brien in Washington says the setback is substantial but not terminal.

'Difficult issues'

In a major televised news conference on Wednesday, the president stressed the importance of passing the bills by the end of the first week in August, so he would be in a position to sign a final, combined, bill in October.

47 million uninsured, 25 million under-insured
Healthcare costs represent 16% of GDP, almost twice OECD average
Reform plans would require all Americans to get insurance
Some propose public insurance option to compete with private insurers

On Thursday, Mr Obama conceded the bills would be delayed, but said he still wanted to see progress.

"I want the bill to get out of the committees," he told a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

"I have no problem if people are really working through these difficult issues in making sure we get it right."

The reform package is intended to reduce health costs, increase choice and widen coverage.

President Obama declared he would not sign the bill if it added even a dime to the deficit over the next decade. He also said that two-thirds of the cost of reform could be met by reallocating money already in the system.

The bill will now be taken up in September when Congress returns from its summer break.

Critics will see this as a challenge to the president's authority and will question his ability to control members of his own party, our correspondent says.

Long road

Five congressional committees are currently working on healthcare bills.

Although there is consensus on some aspects of reform, lawmakers are divided on whether to set up a public health insurance scheme for Americans without employer-sponsored coverage.

There is also much disagreement about how to raise revenue to fund the proposed expansion of healthcare coverage.

Some 47 million Americans do not currently have health insurance, and rising healthcare costs are a major contributing factor to America's spiralling budget deficit.

One Senate committee has passed a bill, and three House of Representatives committees have published a joint proposal.

Both of these bills would require all Americans to take out health insurance, and would provide subsidies to help make coverage affordable.

They would also give Americans without employer-provided coverage the option to join a public insurance scheme.

But the powerful Senate Finance Committee has yet to complete its version of the bill, amid calls from prominent moderate senators for a delay while a bipartisan compromise is reached.

Some opinion polls show that barely half of Americans now approve of the way Mr Obama is handling healthcare reform.

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