First Votes For Health Care Bill Expected After 2 p.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A pair of House Democratic leaders predicted Sunday the final tally on President Barack Obama's historic health care bill will meet or exceed the 216 votes required for passage. But they acknowledged having yet to nail down commitments from a handful of members.
"There are still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds," House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on NBC's "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.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the party's deputy whip, also said the votes were not yet in hand, telling "Fox News Sunday" that Democrats were still short of "a hard 216."
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. At issue was Obama's signature domestic issue and the most significant legislative overhaul in decades: a rewrite of the nation's health care system to provide coverage to millions of people.
One Democratic leader was even more optimistic, though no other party member was willing to declare victory hours before the vote.
"We have the votes now - as we speak," Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson, D-Conn., said on ABC's "This Week."
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 Obama's emotional appeal from Saturday ringing in their ears, House Democratic leaders prepared for three showdown votes when they convene at 1 p.m. EDT and begin voting an hour later: 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.
Democrats need 216 votes to pass each one. With all 178 Republicans and at least two dozen Democrats vowing to vote no, the legislation's fate lay in the hands of the Democrats who remained uncommitted ahead of Sunday's vote.
Obama cast the decision in personal terms, telling House Democrats they have arrived at a moment when they can realize their highest aspirations in public life.
"This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, 'Doggone it, this is exactly why I came here,"' he said. "'Because I believe so deeply in this country and I believe so deeply in this democracy and I'm willing to stand up even when it's hard."'
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, called reconciliation, 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.
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.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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