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Sunday, March 21, 2010

U.S. House Members Cast Votes For/ Against Health Care (Live Coverage)

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House Dems Predict Passage of Health Care Bill, GOP Says Not So Fast

With House Democratic leaders confident they have the 216 votes needed to pass a historic vote Sunday on sweeping health care reform, Republicans were focused on the 20 Democrats who were still uncommitted late Saturday and could derail the legislation.

But that number began to fall Sunday with Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., becoming the latest Democrat to switch to a "yes" vote.

Yet House Republican leader John Boehner said Sunday that Democrats have yet to lock in enough votes. The Ohio Republican told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the plan is a government takeover opposed by the vast majority of Americans.

President Obama was spending Sunday in the West Wing making and taking calls with lawmakers as Democrats worked to lock down votes on the bill.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Connecticut Rep. John Larson, chairman of the Democratic caucus in the House, said their party has the votes needed to pass the bill but acknowledged they have yet to nail down commitments from a handful of members.

"There are still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds," Hoyer said on "Meet the Press" in the hours before the vote. He added that the holdouts numbered in "the low single digits."

"We think there are going to be 216-plus votes when we call the roll," Hoyer said.

Larson stopped just short of declaring victory.

"We have the votes now -- as we speak," Larson, D-Conn., said on ABC's "This Week."

But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the party's deputy whip, said the votes were not yet in hand, telling "Fox News Sunday" that Democrats were still short of "a hard 216."

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House leaders continued to negotiate late Saturday with a handful of anti-abortion Democrats who threatened to switch from "yes" to "no" on the legislation without greater assurances that no federal money under the new laws would be used for elective abortions.

It was unclear whether Obama would agree to issue an executive order along those lines. Long-standing federal policy bars U.S. aid for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.

Another snag involved widespread distrust among House members that the Senate would be able to pass the "fixes" to the bill. Clyburn's Senate counterpart, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he has commitments of support from at least a majority of the 100-member chamber, but Democratic leaders have not released a list of supporters.

The last-minute holdups gave the House vote scheduled Sunday a measure of suspense.

Republicans attributed the caution to public controversy over the plan, which played out in angry protests at the doorstep of the Capitol during Congress' rare weekend session.

Republicans remain resolutely opposed to the legislation and warned they will make Democrats pay dearly in the fall elections if the fiercely debated measure becomes law.

"The American people don't want this to pass. The Republicans don't want this to pass. There will be no Republican votes for this bill," Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House's second-ranking Republican, told ABC.

With President Obama's emotional appeal from Saturday ringing in their ears, House Democratic leaders prepared for three showdown votes Sunday: on a "rule" to establish debate guidelines; on a package of changes to a Senate-passed bill, including deletion of special Medicaid benefits for Nebraska; and on the Senate bill itself, the focus of intense national debate for months.

If Democratic leaders prevail on all three House votes, Obama could sign the Senate version of the bill into law. The bill of "fixes" would go to the Senate under fast-track debate rules that would enable Democrats to pass it without facing a Republican filibuster.

Democrats control 59 of the Senate's 100 seats, one vote shy of the number needed to overcome bill-killing filibusters from a united GOP.

House Democrats have long insisted that senators agree to change the bill that the Senate passed on Christmas Eve. Since then, it became deeply unpopular with many Americans, because of the special deal for Nebraska, a new tax on generous employer-provided health plans and other aspects.

In a sign of increasing Democratic confidence Saturday, House leaders dropped plans for a controversial parliamentary tactic. They agreed to allow a simple yes-or-no vote on the Senate bill. By planning to pass the package of fixes on the same day, Democrats hope they can persuade constituents they did not support the Senate measure as a stand-alone bill.

The legislation, affecting virtually every American and more than a year in the making, would extend coverage to an estimated 32 million uninsured, bar insurers from denying coverage on the basis of existing medical conditions and cut federal deficits by an estimated $138 billion over a decade.

Congressional analysts estimate the cost of the two bills combined would be $940 billion over a decade.

Sources: MSNBC, Fox News

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