McCain says healthcare overhaul possible

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 25, 2009 4:21am GMT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday night he believed an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system was possible this year after President Barack Obama called for such a timetable.

In his speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Obama said that due to rising costs, revamping the healthcare system "must not wait, and it will not wait another year."

McCain, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions, said in an interview after the speech that he felt an accord was reachable this year.

"I do think it's possible, because I think that the inflation associated with healthcare is so severe, as the president correctly stated, it's affecting all of our economy," said McCain, who lost to Obama in last November's presidential election.

"Certainly a lot of us are eager to work with the president on that issue," he said.

But McCain had some criticism of omnibus budget legislation soon to be considered by the U.S. Congress.

While Obama spoke in his speech about ruling out adding pet spending projects to budget legislation, McCain said the budget bill coming up included 9,246 of those projects that would spend billions of dollars.

"A certain inconsistency there," said McCain, specifically criticizing a project he said would spend "$2 million for the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii."

McCain said he was also concerned about the situation in Iraq given reports Obama will soon announce a drawdown in forces over about 19 months from 142,000 U.S. troops down to 50,000.

McCain said he had heard the troops left behind could be in an "advisory capacity."

"I remember the role of advisers in the Vietnam War," said McCain, a Vietnam veteran. "Advisers do a lot of things, but we know that advisers do go into harm's way."

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

(steve.holland@reuters.com)

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