Pressure builds as health reform heads for do-or-die by weekend


WASHINGTON - With time running short and tempers flaring on Capitol Hill, lawmakers and lobbyists battled to pass - or stop - President Obama's proposed health-care overhaul by the weekend.

Tea party volunteers rallied yesterday outside U.S. House chambers, and business groups are spending $1 million a day to depict the bill as a job killer in television ads in the home districts of 26 wavering House Democrats.

Mr. Obama has summoned members to the White House one by one for private, face-to-face persuasion, and also met larger groups.

At stake is a bill that would cover 30 million uninsured people, end insurance practices such as denying coverage to those with a pre-existing conditions, require almost all Americans to get coverage, and try to slow the cost of medical care nationwide.

The comprehensive legislation could affect nearly every American, from those undergoing annual checkups to people facing major surgery.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) is trying to keep wavering lawmakers in line, meeting with them individually and in groups.

She has summoned women Democrats to her office for a meeting this morning.

House Democratic leaders are still short of the 216 votes they need.

While broad outlines of the $1 trillion, 10-year measure are well known, critical final details are still being ironed out.

Lawmakers are awaiting a cost report from the Congressional Budget Office on compromises worked out with Mr. Obama to reconcile versions passed earlier by the House and Senate.

Democratic leaders are con-sidering using a legislative procedure that would allow them to pass fixes to the Senate bill without taking a direct vote on the underlying legislation.

The maneuver would spare House Democrats from directly voting to approve a Senate bill many of them had criticized.

Republicans used the tactic when they controlled the House, but they are indignant that Democrats would employ it on legislation of such significance.

"The American people are appalled by what they have seen in this health care debate, but the worst is still ahead," said Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio).

"The majority plans to force the toxic Senate bill through the House under some controversial trick," Mr. Boehner said.

"There is no way to hide from this vote," he said. "It will be the biggest vote most members ever cast."

Democrats continued trying to nail down the final votes they need.

Supporters of the bill were encouraged by signs that Democratic opposition to the bill was softening - or at least not solidifying.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who said earlier she believed the bill's new language barring federal funding for abortion was not stringent enough, held open the possibility that she would still vote for the legislation.

Miss Kaptur, who backed the bill in November, said she has heard from several Cabinet secretaries.

Meanwhile in Ohio, a woman championed as the Obama Administration's emblem for health-care reform does not have to choose between her home and her health, according to officials at the hospital where she is being treated.

With a self-reported annual income of about $6,000, Natoma Canfield is a prime candidate for financial aid in the form of Medicaid - the federal health care program for low-income and disabled people - or charitable assistance.

The Cleveland Clinic said it has no intention of putting out a lien on Ms. Canfield's house - or letting the billing process interfere with her treatment.

"It appears that I think she'll be fine," said Lyman Sornberger, the hospital's executive director of patient financial services.

"By nature of the fact that she was not early on rejected by either program, that's a key indicator that she will most likely be eligible."

Ms. Canfield was stunned last month when she unsealed a handwritten letter from none other than President Obama.

She had written to Mr. Obama before the holidays to request that he count her as a "statistic," as she put it, among the scores of Americans unable to afford health insurance - but she never expected to get a response.

"I still can't get over the thrill of opening that," said Ms. Canfield, 50, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for leukemia, a form of cancer.

Mr. Obama traveled to northeast Ohio Monday to champion Ms. Canfield's plight as proof of why health care reform is so urgently needed.

Despite the grim reality of Ms. Canfield's fight against cancer, hospital officials said it's not the case that she can have either a home or her health.

Ms. Canfield is a self-employed cleaning worker who successfully battled breast cancer 16 years ago.

She collapsed last week while she was carrying a bucket of grain on a friend's farm, where she had worked for years.

She was rushed to Medina Hospital, part of the Cleveland Clinic regional hospital system, where she was told she had acute leukemia and went to Cleveland Clinic for treatment.

As Mr. Obama has recounted in recent days, Ms. Canfield stopped paying for health insurance this year after her premium more than doubled, costing $8,500 a year, she said.

The idea that Ms. Canfield would have to give up her home originated first in the letter she wrote to the President, in which she explained that she feared she would have to sell it in order to pay her medical bills.