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Senate's fix to health care law slowed by snag

Photo by Donnie Ikpa

Photo by Donnie Ikpa

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Brushing off a snag in the Senate, House Democratic leaders said they are prepared to finish work by late Thursday on a package of fixes to the big health care law signed by President Barack Obama.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement Thursday morning that if the Senate finishes its work by the afternoon, as expected, the House will immediately take up the bill. Democrats are saying they do not expect any major problems.

After nine straight hours of beating back Republican amendments, Senate Democrats hit a temporary snag early Thursday. Republicans learned they will be able to kill some language in the bill that relates to federal grants for low-income university students. That means the altered bill will have to be returned to the House for final congressional approval before it can be sent to Obama.

Democrats described the situation as a minor glitch, but did not rule out that Republicans might be able to remove additional sections of the bill.

Senate Democrats had hoped to complete work on the fix-it bill by midday Thursday and get it quickly to Obama without changes to avoid prolonging what has already been a yearlong politically charged battle to overhaul the country's health care system.

The bill is a companion to the main legislation passed by Congress over the weekend and signed by Obama on Tuesday.

The main health care bill would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans over 10 years with a first-time requirement for nearly everyone to carry insurance and would ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage to sick people. The measure represents the biggest expansion of the U.S. federal government's social safety net since the 1960s.

The president was flying to Iowa later in the day for the first of many appearances around the country to sell his health care revamp before the November congressional elections. His trip comes as polls show people are divided over the new health law, and Democratic lawmakers from competitive districts hope he can convince more voters that it was the right move.

As an exhausted Senate labored past 2 a.m. on a stack of Republican amendments, Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told reporters that Republicans consulting with the chamber's parliamentarian had found "two minor provisions" that violate Congress' budget rules.

Republicans have been hunting for such violations in hopes of bringing down the legislation.

The two provisions are expected to be formally removed from the bill on Thursday. Manley said he expected the Senate to approve the measure without them and send it to the House. He said Senate leaders, after conversations with top House Democrats, expect the House to approve the revised measure.

Both the House and Senate are hoping to begin a spring recess by this weekend.

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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.