WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed support Thursday for a Senate Democratic proposal to expand Medicare, raising prospects that the two chambers of Congress can work out differences on health-care legislation.

The proposal would open Medicare to some people ages 55 to 64, and is a key feature of a deal among senior Senate Democrats that would abandon efforts to enact a big government-run health-insurance program. The deal would also empower the government's Office of Personnel Management to contract with private insurers to offer new low-cost insurance plans.

The deal is a key difference between the Senate bill and the House's measure, which was passed in November and includes a direct government-run insurance plan.

Ms. Pelosi (D., Calif.) stopped short of endorsing the full Senate compromise, saying she needed to see "something in writing." But she said "there is certainly a great deal of appeal" in expanding Medicare.

Other House Democrats were more cautious. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition, said he was "watchful and hopeful" about the idea, but couldn't commit to supporting it.

Top Democrats want to wrap up action on the health bill quickly and turn to other priorities, including jobs. Senate Democratic leaders hope to pass a bill as soon as late next week, though they have yet to lock up the 60 votes they need to ensure passage.

Senate Republicans attacked the bill Thursday, saying it would impose big costs on taxpayers and business. "Americans want us to stop," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). "They want us to start over and get it right."

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