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NEXT 4 WEEKS CRITICAL FOR HEALTH REFORMS

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The defection of a prominent, big-state Democratic senator from President Clinton's health bill was just one more kick at a plan that stood no chance of being enacted as presented.

The next four weeks may well determine whether Congress passes any health bill at all this year or whether incumbents like Sen. Dianne Feinstein will have to face the voters having failed at the task.None of the five major committees was able to finish its work by the Democratic leaders' informal Memorial Day deadline, and now they are all shooting for the Fourth of July.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the pacesetter, is determined to push his Clinton-lite bill through the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee this Thursday - by 6 p.m., no less. He would keep the requirement that most businesses help pay for their workers' coverage.

The House Ways and Means Committee resumes work Thursday under a new acting chairman, Sam Gibbons, D-Fla., who will work from a subcommittee blueprint to open Medicare up to the uninsured and low-wage workers.

The staff of the Senate Finance Committee, which many lawmakers expect to serve as the engine of compromise, has spent the long Memorial Day break drafting a list of proposals that Democratic and Republican senators can agree on and options for dealing with their differences.

The Finance Committee will resume its informal, closed-door talks Wednesday, with a vote at least two weeks away. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., told a convention of New York Democrats in Buffalo on Wednesday, "In this Congress, my mission is clear: Get the president his bill."

The House Education and Labor panel will likely see its labor-management subcommittee, which has already voted for a version of the Clinton plan, put its stamp of approval as well Thursday on a Canadian-style, government-financed health system for all.