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Health care bill still lacks House votes, congressman says

But Clyburn is confident it will be passed

ROUNDING UP VOTERS “We don’t have [the votes] as of this morning, but we’ve been working this thing all weekend,’’ said James Clyburn. ROUNDING UP VOTERS
“We don’t have [the votes] as of this morning, but we’ve been working this thing all weekend,’’ said James Clyburn.
By Libby Quaid
Associated Press / March 15, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Representative James Clyburn, the chief Democratic vote counter in the House, said yesterday he hadn’t rounded up enough votes to pass President Obama’s health care overhaul heading into a make-or-break week, but the White House’s top political adviser said he was “absolutely confident’’ in its prospects.

The administration gave signs of retreating on its demands that senators jettison special home-state deals sought by individual lawmakers that have angered the public.

Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, said House leaders were working overtime to round up the needed voters.

“No, we don’t have them as of this morning, but we’ve been working this thing all weekend,’’ he said.

Clyburn said on NBC’s “Meet the Press’’ that he was confident the measure would pass, echoing comments from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, on Saturday.

Political strategist David Axelrod said Democrats will persuade enough lawmakers to vote “yes.’’ He conceded that it will be a struggle, taking aim at insurance industry lobbyists who “have landed on Capitol Hill like locusts’’ and Republicans who see being on the losing side of the vote as a political victory.

“I am absolutely confident that we are going to be successful. I believe that there is a sense of urgency on the part of members of Congress,’’ given recent news about insurance plan rate increases, Axelrod said. He appeared on ABC’s “This Week’’ and CNN’s “State of the Union,’’ as well as the NBC program.

The House GOP leader, Representative John Boehner of Ohio, acknowledged that Republicans alone can’t stop the measure. In an interview on CNN, he pledged to do “everything we can to make it difficult for them, if not impossible, to pass the bill.’’ Republicans believe they may get help from Democrats facing tough reelection campaigns.

The process of moving the health care legislation through the House and Senate is expected to begin today in the House Budget Committee. The goal is to put the bill on the floor for a final vote on Friday or Saturday. The bill needs 216 votes to clear the House.

Aides said the president wants to be present for the final push on the bill so he will delay his trip to Guam, Indonesia, and Australia until Sunday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted House passage before Obama’s trip. “This is the week where we will have this important vote,’’ he said.

Axelrod indicated that the White House was backing down on an attempt to get senators to rid the legislation of a number of lawmakers’ special deals.

Taking a new position, he said the White House only objects to state-specific arrangements, such as an increase in Medicaid funding for Nebraska, ridiculed as the “Cornhusker Kickback.’’ That’s being cut, but provisions that could affect more than one state are OK, Axelrod said.

That means deals sought by senators from Montana and Connecticut would be fine, even though Gibbs last week singled them out as items Obama wanted removed. There was resistance, however, from two powerful committee chairmen, Democratic senators Max Baucus of Montana and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, and the White House has apparently backed down.

“The principle that we want to apply is: Are these applicable to all states? Even if they do not qualify now, would they qualify under certain sets of circumstances?’’ Axelrod said.

That’s the argument made by aides to Baucus and Dodd. The measure to give Medicare coverage to asbestos-sickened residents of Libby, Mont., could apply to other places where public health emergencies are declared, even though Libby is the only place where that’s happened so far.

Dodd’s deal would leave it up to the health secretary to decide where to spend $100 million for construction of a hospital, though Dodd has made clear he hopes the University of Connecticut would be the beneficiary.

The legislation would provide health insurance to tens of millions who have none and would ban insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions. It would require most people to obtain insurance and would subsidize premiums for poor and middle-income Americans.

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