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Healthcare overhaul poised for big step forward Tue Oct 13, 2009 By John Whitesides WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Barack Obama’s push for sweeping healthcare reform was poised to clear a key Senate hurdle on Tuesday, opening a new phase in the raging debate over his top domestic priority. The Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee will consider its plan to cut healthcare costs, regulate insurers and expand coverage at a meeting starting at 10 am EDT (1400 GMT), with a vote a few hours later. If approved as expected, the bill would be merged with the Senate Health Committee’s version over the next few weeks and moved to the full Senate, setting off an eventual floor battle with Republicans who call it too costly and a heavy-handed government intrusion. The Finance Committee vote will be closely watched to see if Senator Olympia Snowe, a moderate from Maine, becomes the first Republican in Congress to back a health reform bill and if any of Obama’s fellow Democrats defect on the issue. Snowe’s support could give Democrats a crucial swing vote as they try to hold the 60 Senate votes needed to overcome procedural roadblocks. Democratic defections would create a major threat to passage in the Senate, where the party controls only 60 seats and has no margin of error. Two weeks of panel debate left the key elements of Chairman Max Baucus’s plan intact. Support was strengthened by last week’s estimate from nonpartisan analysts that it would cost $829 billion — well

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