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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Obama Strongly Compels Democratic Caucus To Pass HC Bill

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Obama To Dems: Overhaul "Is In Your Hands"

President Barack Obama exhorted House Democrats to make history by bringing health insurance to millions of struggling families now left out, as Democratic leaders appeared confident they had the votes needed to pass the landmark legislation Sunday.

Obama can rely only on Democrats to gain passage of his top domestic priority in a make-or-break vote for his presidency. He faces unanimous opposition from Republicans, who say the plan amounts to a government takeover of health care that will lead to higher deficits and taxes. Some moderate House Democrats also are wary about the plan's costs and abortion provisions.

On Saturday, Democratic leaders frenetically hunted for votes inside the Capitol as angry protesters gathered outside with some hurling racial insults at black members of Congress.

"I know this is a tough vote," the president told House Democrats at a meeting on Capitol Hill, adding he also believes "it will end up being the smart thing to do politically."

"It is in your hands," Obama said, bringing lawmakers to their feet. "It is time to pass health care reform for America and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow."

In a carefully orchestrated appeal to unity, Obama and House leaders were joined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who brought a pledge from more than 50 of his Democratic colleagues to promptly finish the bill after the House of Representatives votes Sunday. House Democrats have been wary of being left in the lurch by the famously unpredictable Senate.

The United States is alone among developed nations in not offering its citizens comprehensive health care, with nearly 50 million Americans uninsured.

Although the bill before Congress does not provide universal health care, it should expand coverage to about 95 percent of Americans. It would require most Americans to carry insurance with subsidies for those who can't afford it, expand the government-run Medicaid program for the poor, and create new places to buy health care.

Even so, the reform is likely to be judged alongside the boldest acts of presidents and Congress in domestic affairs. While national health care has long been a goal of politicians and presidents stretching back decades, it has proved elusive, in part because self-reliance and suspicion of a strong central government remain strong in the U.S.

It may still elude Obama, too. A series of last-minute flare-ups threatened to slow the Democrats' march to passage, after more than a year of grueling effort and a turbulent debate that has left the country deeply divided.

The most intense focus was on a small group of Democrats concerned that abortion funding restrictions in the legislation do not go far enough. Determined to avoid votes on such a charged issue, Democratic leaders raised the possibility of an executive order from Obama that reaffirms existing federal law barring taxpayer funded abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

House Democratic leaders abandoned a much-challenged procedure for passing the legislation after an outcry from Republicans and protest from some of their members. According to the new plan, the House will vote separately on the health care bill passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve as well as a package of changes.

The Senate bill would then go to Obama for his signature, the companion fix-it measure to the Senate, which hopes to pass it within the week under a procedure called reconciliation that requires only 50 votes in the 100-member body.

The parliamentary maneuvers became necessary after January's special election in Massachusetts when a Republican won the seat held for decades by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a champion of health care reform. That deprived the Democrats of their 60-vote Senate supermajority required to block Republican legislative delaying maneuvers.

The 10-year, $940 billion measure represents the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare and Medicaid were enacted in the 1960s to provide government-funded health care coverage to the elderly and poor.

The sweeping legislation, affecting virtually every American and impacting one-sixth of the U.S. economy, provides health coverage to 32 million people now uninsured, bars insurance companies from denying coverage to those in poor health, and sets up new marketplaces where self-employed people and small businesses can pool together to buy coverage.

Republicans, unanimous in their opposition, complained anew about the bill's cost and reach. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said a fuller analysis of the bill's long-term costs is needed.

Displaying a gritty confidence, House Democratic leaders said they were getting closer by the hour. "We are on the verge of making great history for the American people," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Democratic leaders and Obama focused last-minute lobbying efforts on two groups of Democrats: 37 who voted against an earlier bill in the House and 40 who voted for it only after first making sure it would include strict abortion limits that now have been modified.

Inside the Capitol, Democratic leaders pursued the last few votes to reach the 216 needed to pass the sweeping legislation, sometimes in full view on the House floor. Several thousand demonstrators opposed to the bill swirled on nearby streets, with some surrounding lawmakers between the Capitol and their offices.

Obama's motorcade was delayed, and as he rode up to Capitol Hill, many of the protesters booed and gave him a thumbs down.

Rep. Andre Carson, said that as he left the Cannon House Office Building with Rep. John Lewis, a leader of the 1960s civil rights movement, some among the crowd chanted racial slurs at the lawmakers, who are both black.

"It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis," Carson said.

Kristie Greco, spokeswoman for Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn said a protester spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver who is black.

Sources: MSNBC

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