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Oct 2, 2009 9:51 AM by Associated Press

Obama-backed health bill gains ground

Health care legislation backed by President Barack Obama has all but cleared a major hurdle in the Senate.

Democratic liberals and moderates on the Senate Finance Committee closed ranks early this morning behind the most sweeping set of changes in a half-century.

Obama is hailing the development as a milestone, saying "we are now closer than ever before to finally passing reform."

Committee chairman Max Baucus says the bill "will lower taxes for more than 42 million Americans and reduce the federal deficit." He says it will also "protect Medicare benefits for seniors" and "significantly expand health coverage."

A final vote was delayed until next week so budget officials can certify the legislation doesn't add to federal deficits. Given the Democrats' 13-10 majority only the final margin is in doubt.

Sen. Olympia Snowe says she hasn't decided how to vote. The Maine Republican says she's "got a lot to think about." All other Republicans on the committee have criticized the bill and are certain to oppose it.

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