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2 SENATE DEMOS JOINING GOP HEALTH BILL BACKERS

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Two Democratic senators have signed on to a Republican bill that would require all Americans, not their employers, to buy their own health insurance.

But Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., said Wednesday he does not rule out forcing large companies to help pay for coverage, and he said the timetable for covering everybody should be quicker than the 10 years envisioned in the bill sponsored by Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I.His Democratic colleague, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, said he took the step to head off a stalemate.

Congress won't pass health reform that isn't bipartisan, said Kerrey, and "it's much more likely that we can bring Democrats onto the Chafee bill than . . . Republicans onto the Clinton (plan)."

Kerrey said White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty tried to dissuade him from breaking ranks. Clinton administration officials said Kerrey initiated the calls and McLarty wanted to hear his thoughts.

The White House, which has a solitary Republican, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, in its camp, said it was glad to see Boren and Kerrey commit themselves to enacting a universal coverage bill this year.

"Both feel a mandate is needed," said Lorrie McHugh, a Clinton spokeswoman.

Both Boren and Kerrey at times have had testy relations with the White House. Kerrey was a rival of President Clinton's during the race for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination and staked his campaign on health reform. It was a flop.