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Democrats Strike Optimistic Tone Ahead of House Vote on Reform

March 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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House Democrats are taking final headcounts on health care reform in the run-up to a possible Sunday vote, as President Barack Obama rallied public support at a Virginia university on Friday. Kwame Holman reports.
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JIM LEHRER: The head-counting in the House was in high gear today, 48 hours before a Sunday showdown on health care reform.

“NewsHour” congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic leaders sounded full of enthusiasm as they began the day. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the party’s chief vote-counter, said he’s confident of getting a majority of 216 votes to pass the health care legislation.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN, D-S.C.: I feel very sure that we will vote some time after 2:00 Sunday, and the bill will pass.

KWAME HOLMAN: At a briefing later, Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed the optimism.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the house: I’m very excited about the momentum that is developing around the bill. As I say to you every time I see you, one day closer to passing historic legislation, which will make progress — history, of course, but progress for the American people.

KWAME HOLMAN: The so-called reconciliation bill shares features with the measure that already passed the Senate. Both would extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans, require every American to obtain insurance by 2014, or face a penalty, provide subsidies to buy coverage for families of four earning less than $88,000 a year, and ban insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions.

The House measure also makes changes to the Senate bill. It would drop a special Medicaid deal for Nebraska and add more Medicaid funding for all states.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: We do want the language to be closer to what we had in the House bill, because that represented a compromise between those who have a legitimate concern about the reimbursement to their states being unfair — and they are — and those who say, yes, but we’re dealing with large populations of poor people and cultural diversity and the rest.

KWAME HOLMAN: Other fixes in the reconciliation bill would gradually close the gap in Medicare’s coverage of prescription drug costs, impose a Medicare tax on investment income for families earning more than $250,000, and delay the tax on high-cost health insurance until 2018.

As lawmakers digested the details at the Capitol…

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello, George Mason!

KWAME HOLMAN: … the president made one more pitch for congressional action at a rally in Northern Virginia. He painted the fight in stark terms.

BARACK OBAMA: Because, if this vote fails, the insurance industry will continue to run amok. They will continue to deny people coverage. They will continue to deny people care.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Obama appealed to supporters to add their weight to his own lobbying efforts.

BARACK OBAMA: And make some phone calls and knock on some doors, talk to your parents, talk to your friends. Do not quit. Do not give up. We keep on going.

BARACK OBAMA: We are going to get this done. We are going to make history. We are going to fix health care in America with your help.

KWAME HOLMAN: President Obama’s appearance here at George Mason University was the public part of his final push leading up to Sunday’s vote.

Behind closed doors, Mr. Obama continued to press wavering Democrats in meetings and calls this afternoon.

One lawmaker he won’t have to call, Ohio’s John Boccieri, who became the fourth House Democrat to say he will switch his vote to yes.

REP. JOHN BOCCIERI, D-Ohio: A lot of people are telling me this decision could cost me my job. There’s been a lot of lies and fear-mongering. This town is wrought with that these days, but I’m standing up today and I’m doing what I believe in.

KWAME HOLMAN: But other Democrats were proving harder to convert. Michigan’s Bart Stupak leads a dozen anti-abortion members. He reiterated today, they want stronger restrictions to make sure there’s no federal funding of abortion.

REP. BART STUPAK, D-Mich.: If they had the vote today, I’m still a no-vote. I mean, you know, a lot of promises are made around this town. You have got to lock them down. And there has been no lockdown yet. We’re still negotiating.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans uniformly oppose the bill, and Minority Leader John Boehner warned, the opposition is reflected nationwide.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, house minority leader: Americans are jamming the phone lines here on Capitol Hill. They are screaming at the top of their lungs to say, stop, just stop. Republicans are listening, and we’re standing with them.

KWAME HOLMAN: If the House does pass its package this weekend, the Senate bill will go to the president. The reconciliation bill, containing the House fixes, will go to the Senate for final approval.