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Pelosi steps up defense of public option on health care

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  • NEW: Rep. John Boehner: Current plans will lead to higher taxes, fewer jobs
  • NEW: Obama concurs on prediction of reform's passage by year's end
  • Pelosi to Senate counterparts: We'll fight for a public option
  • Senate Finance Committee cut it from $827 billion health care proposal
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned her Senate counterparts Thursday that she intends to fight hard for a government-run health care plan as part of any comprehensive overhaul bill.

Pelosi's adamant defense of the politically polarizing public option puts her on a potential collision course with the Senate Finance Committee, which dropped the idea from its sweeping $827 billion proposal.

Democratic Senate leaders have not yet indicated whether they will include the option when they combine the Finance Committee's legislation with a separate measure advanced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

If the House and Senate manage to pass health care reform bills, a conference committee would then negotiate a final version requiring approval from both chambers before going to President Obama for his signature.

"I want our conferees to have the most muscle for the middle class when they go to the table [to negotiate with the Senate]," Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill.

"Why would you throw [people] into the lion's den of the insurance industry without the leverage [of a public option]? Our House position is what we will go in there to fight for," she said.

Several top Democrats, including Pelosi, have questioned whether it is possible to contain spiraling medical costs without creating a public option to serve as a check on private insurers.

Republicans and some conservative Democrats oppose the government-run insurance option, saying it would drive private insurers from the market and eventually bring a government takeover of the health care system. Video Watch CNN's Josh Levs explain the path that lies ahead for health care reform legislation »

Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe -- the lone Republican to vote for the Finance Committee bill -- has expressed strong opposition to a public option.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, has repeatedly said the Senate cannot muster the 60 votes necessary to cut off a potential filibuster if it tries to pass legislation that includes a public option.

Avoiding a politically disastrous health care clash within the Democratic Party is a top priority for White House negotiators, who are set to resume their deliberations with top Senate Democrats on Monday.

Top congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are continuing to attack all of the plans now under consideration. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, slammed legislation being pushed by Pelosi on Thursday as a "trillion-dollar government approach [that] will lead to higher premiums, higher taxes, fewer jobs, and fewer benefits for seniors."

Boehner urged Democrats to "scrap their big-government plan, sit down and work with Republicans on common-sense solutions that'll make our current health care system work better."

Tough Republican rhetoric aside, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he isn't yet prepared to give up on the possibility of more GOP support.

Reid told Capitol Hill reporters that he spoke to two Senate Republicans other than Snowe on Thursday. "We're not writing off the Republicans," he said.

Baucus predicted an eventual unanimous vote for reform among Senate Democrats. He called the legislation now moving through Congress more significant than Social Security or Medicare. Video Watch CNN's Jim Acosta report on the "Super Bowl of lobbying" that is health care reform »

"We are going to get health care reform passed this year because the need is so great. ... The status quo is unconscionable," he said.

Addressing a town hall audience in New Orleans, Louisiana, Obama seconded Baucus' prediction that health care reform would pass by the end of the year.


"Change is hard, and big change is harder ... (but) I don't quit," he declared as the crowd roared its approval.

The Republican leaders "are betting on Obama's failure," Reid said. "We're betting on success."

All About Nancy PelosiOlympia SnoweMax BaucusPaying for Health CareJohn Boehner

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