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Published: Friday, 3/19/2010

Dems open final push for health-care reform

NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON - House Democrats initiated a 72-hour final countdown yesterday on their yearlong effort to overhaul the health-care system, unveiling a nearly final version of the legislation that promptly won additional support by promising to more than pay for itself over the next decade.

Armed with detailed legislative language and a favorable report on the bill's costs from the Congressional Budget Office, congressional leaders and White House officials kicked off a new round of arm-twisting to line up the final votes they will need to pass the legislation when it comes to the House floor in the face of intense Republican opposition on Sunday afternoon.

With the fate of his signature initiative still up in the air, President Obama canceled a foreign trip scheduled to start Sunday so he could be on hand for the final House vote and a subsequent round of voting that would begin in the Senate next week to complete work on the legislation.

The legislation's chances seemed to be improved by the budget office report, which estimated that it would reduce projected budget deficits by $138 billion over the next decade.

Many of the House Democrats who have continued to waver over the bill had been concerned about the bill's long-term costs.

The bill would provide insurance coverage to most uninsured Americans, put restrictions on insurers, and seek to put downward pressure on rising health-care costs.

The version of the legislation unveiled yesterday is based on the bill passed by the Senate in December, but it incorporates a package of changes that would address concerns raised by House Democrats.

The scheduled House action on Sunday would in effect make the Senate bill the law of the land but would immediately alter it.

The Senate would then have to agree by majority vote to the package of changes.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D., Tenn.) cited the deficit-reduction figure in announcing that he would switch his vote and support the new bill.

Mr. Gordon, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, voted against the House bill in November.

Another Blue Dog Democrat who voted "no" in November, Rep. Betsy Markey of Colorado, said she too would support the measure.

But a few House Democrats, including Reps. Michael Arcuri of New York and Stephen F. Lynch of Massachusetts, said they were moving in the opposite direction.

Mr. Arcuri, who supported the bill in November, said he would vote against the new health care package because it did not do enough to lower insurance costs for consumers.

Mr. Lynch issued a statement saying he was opposed to the bill - and to a plan being considered by Democratic leaders to pass it without explicitly voting for it.

The House should take "a straightforward up-or-down vote on a bill of this magnitude," Mr. Lynch said.

The No. 3 Democrat in the House, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, said, "We are absolutely giddy" over the report from the budget office.

Republicans minimized the significance of the latest cost estimate, deriding the 10-year budget savings as paltry compared with what they called the staggering scale of the government's debt.

Democrats see no prospect of obtaining any Republican votes for the bill, which is a top priority for Mr. Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Passage of health care reform is of paramount importance, and the President is determined to see this battle through," Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in announcing Mr. Obama had postponed until June his plan to travel to Indonesia and Australia.

Officials said that Senate leaders would spend today conferring with the Senate parliamentarian over the specific legislative language to determine if any provisions may be struck out for failing to meet the requirements of the complex process being used to alter the Senate bill, known as budget reconciliation.

Senior House Democratic aides said the decisions by the Senate parliamentarian could result in a final package of amendments to the legislation, in the hope that the House could approve a bill that would not require further changes in the Senate.

Under the bill, the budget office said, the federal government would spend $940 billion over the next 10 years to provide coverage to 32 million people who would otherwise be uninsured.

The price tag, though higher than $875 billion cost of the Senate bill, is lower than the limit of $950 billion suggested by Mr. Obama.

The cost of the bill results from a significant expansion of Medicaid, to cover 16 million more low-income people, and the payment of federal subsidies to help moderate-income people buy health insurance on their own.



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