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Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell voiced confidence Wednesday that Congress will pass health reform. Both he and Minority Leader Bob Dole indicated a Senate filibuster on the bill is unlikely.

Mitchell said his compromise plan to get 95 percent of Americans covered by the turn of the century represented an attempt "to come up with a rational and coherent plan that represents what is best for the country and has some reasonable chance of being enacted."But Dole said Mitchell will "need a great deal of flexibility" to push a bill through.

Some moderate Democrats who have dug in their heels against any forced contributions by employers expressed misgivings Tuesday about Mitchell's backstop provision that could require some employers to pay half their workers' premiums in 2002 and beyond.

"You just can't sell mandates to the United States Senate," Dole said Wednesday on NBC. "There's no filibuster strategy," the Republican leader said. "But let's face it, we need a long debate on it."

Mitchell, at a breakfast with reporters, said he was certain that health-care reform will be enacted, but added, "there is not a chance in the world that this bill will pass the Senate unchanged."

President Clinton lauded the compromise proposal, saying it "provides for universal coverage (and) enables Americans to keep their current insurance and their doctor." He said it would achieve "what the American people want - health coverage that can never be taken away."

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, one of the Republican pointmen on health-care reform, blasted the Mitchell plan as "the gateway to Clinton's plan."

"When we wipe away the fog surrounding the Mitchell proposal, its reflection in the mirror will be nothing more than the Clinton plan - plainly and simply. The majority leader is reprocessing proposals that the American people already have rejected - more taxes, more government, less choice," Bennett said.

Bennett added, "It will cost jobs, money and freedom."