But Clinton on Thursday claimed that the House bill would increase premiums by less than $2 per month. Four of the Senate's 55 Republicans have broken ranks to support the House measure, drawing the president to emphasize that just one additional GOP vote will give victory to the House plan.
One possible Republican vote is Sen. John Ashcroft (R, Mo.), who is feeling increasing pressure on the issue; Clinton made his remarks Thursday at an event with Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D), who is challenging Ashcroft this November for his Senate seat.
John Stone, spokesman for Rep. Charlie Norwood (R, Ga.), a key author of the House bill, tells WebMD, "With no compromise whatsoever, we almost passed the House bill in the Senate. So with any kind of legitimate, reasonable compromise, we ought to have the majority over in the Senate."
Stone says that behind-the-scenes negotiations are ongoing. "Within the next two weeks, you're going to see a true compromise bill come out," he says. "Hopefully, it will be one that the leaders of both parties and the president can all say they can work with."
Others are betting on a successful compromise. Norman Ornstein, PhD, a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, tells WebMD, "The odds are better than 50-50 that we'll see something pass," he says, but adds, "these are still preliminary negotiations, and it's quite possible that you won't get any kind of a break until the fall."
Congress returns to work next Monday from its Fourth of July holiday. Lawmakers will work through the month, but depart again for the month of August before returning for a final month of legislating.
Ornstein notes, however, that Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore has chosen so far to focus his health care campaigning on a Medicare prescription drug benefit. "He's not making much of an effort on patient's rights," Ornstein tells WebMD. "That takes a bit of the public focus off of this, and may take some of the pressure away from doing things."