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Published: Thursday, 3/18/2010

Health measure gaining support

NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON - House Democrats locked in two more votes yesterday as they inched toward the majority they need to pass health-care legislation, giving them added confidence as they worked out the last details of the bill and girded for a historic showdown as soon as this weekend.

Behind the scenes, Democratic leaders were still working to secure backing for the legislation from among roughly three dozen members of the party whose votes are considered to be in play, even as they awaited a final price tag on the bill from the Congressional Budget Office.

But they sought to portray the measure as gaining momentum from the public declarations of support from two Democrats: Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who had previously opposed it, and Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, who had been among a group seeking tighter restrictions on the financing of insurance covering abortions.

Democratic leaders say they have not nailed down the 216 votes they need for passage, but they are pressing ahead in the belief that they can get them.

The House Democratic leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said the House could take a final vote on the legislation by Sunday.

The endorsement from Mr. Kucinich suggested that Democrats who have been pushing for more ambitious legislation might put aside their reservations and unite behind the bill as their best opportunity to secure health insurance for millions of Americans who now lack it. Backing for the bill from Mr. Kildee - and new support from nuns who lead major Roman Catholic religious orders - indicated that Democrats were having some success in addressing an issue that has cost the votes of some Democrats who oppose abortion rights.

But House Republicans said they still believed they could block the bill, a top priority for President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said Republicans were engaged in a variety of activities to stir opposition to the bill in the home districts of Democrats considered vulnerable in the November elections.

"We are going to do everything we can to put the pressure on these guys because they are going to have to choose," said Mr. Boehner. "Are they going to vote with Nancy Pelosi and the President, or are they going to vote with their constituents?"

"It's going to be a wild ride," Mr. Boehner predicted.

Democrats had hoped to unveil the text of the reconciliation bill yesterday afternoon, setting up the possibility of a vote on Saturday. But they said that the Congressional Budget Office was still analyzing the cost of some provisions.

House Democratic leaders have promised that lawmakers would be given 72 hours to review the legislation before voting on it.

In announcing his support, Mr. Kucinich said he would keep working for a government-financed single-payer health-care system. But after coming under intense pressure, which included a visit to his district on Monday by Mr. Obama, Mr. Kucinich said he did not want his objections to stand in the way of the legislation.

Meanwhile, in a rare public disagreement that will reverberate among the nation's 70 million Catholics, leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 nuns sent lawmakers a letter urging lawmakers to pass the Senate health care bill. The measure contains abortion funding restrictions that the bishops say don't go far enough.

"Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions," said the letter signed by 60 leaders of women's religious orders. "It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments … in support of pregnant women. This is the real pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it."



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