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House Dems optimistic about health bill

From NBC's Mark Murray
After House Democrats held their weekly caucus lunch, Connecticut Rep. John Larson -- the No. 4 Democrat in the House leadership -- spoke to reporters, maintaining that Democrats are still confident about passing a health-care bill.

But he acknowledged the increasing likelihood that passage wouldn't come until Congress returns from its August recess.

Larson's comments came as House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman continues to negotiate with the committee's conservative Blue Dog Democrats. And they also came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested yesterday that House passage was unlikely before the recess.

Video: Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., talks about the state of the health care reform bill and whether an agreement will be reached.

"Everyone in our caucus -- and I don't care what part of the caucus they come from -- wants health-care reform," Larson said. "People are understanding the gravity of what we are undertaking."

Larson went on to say that, during the lunch, Pelosi was "as enthusiastic and ebullient as ever... That's why we remain so confident it [health care] will happen."

While he said he preferred that the legislation would pass the House before the August recess, Larson admitted that passage most likely wouldn't happen until September. "I'm confident that the American people will speak [during the recess], and it will be reflected in their representative [in how he or she votes]."

Meanwhile, to further their criticism of the tax hikes contained in the House Democratic health-care bill, House Republican leaders -- led by Minority Whip Eric Cantor -- held a roundtable with a handful of small business owners.

These owners complained that the legislation's surtax on high-income earners, as well as its penalty on employers who don't provide health insurance to their employees, would end up harming their businesses.

Maureen O'Connor of Center Sheet Metal in the Bronx, NY took issue with the legislation's 5.4% income tax on the highest income earners. She said that such a hike would force her to reduce her staff.

Lesley Hottinger, who owns a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Ohio, complained about the penalty on all but the smallest business owners who don't provide insurance to their employees. (Hottinger said her company insured salaried managers, but not anyone else.)

"If Congress and the president are not doing something to create jobs, they are not doing their job," she said.

In attendance at the roundtable were Cantor, House Minority Leader John Boehner, House GOP Conference Chair Mike Pence, and Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt.