WASHINGTON (AP) — Days away from a make-or-break vote on his fiercely contested health care overhaul, President Barack Obama is turning up the pressure on wavering Democrats as party leaders make a desperate scramble for votes to pass the president’s top domestic priority.
The president is wooing freshman Democrats in the Oval Office, holding at least two one-on-one sessions in the past few days that never appeared on his official schedule, according to aides to two lawmakers invited, Reps. Scott Murphy of New York and Suzanne Kosmas of Florida.
Both voted “no” when the legislation passed the House of Representatives on the first go-round last year, but now they’re not ruling out siding with the president and Democratic leaders on what’s expected to be a cliffhanger vote later this week.
Another lawmaker who opposed the legislation last year, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio flew with Obama on Air Force One to an Obama appearance to pitch his call for affordable and nearly universal coverage in Kucinich’s district Monday.
The liberal Kucinich, who was against the bill because he wants a larger government role in health care, also is not ruling out voting “yes” this time.
Kucinich is one of 37 Democrats currently in the 435-member House who voted against Obama’s legislation when it cleared the House last fall.
With a number of anti-abortion Democrats expected to defect over provisions they contend allow federal funding of abortion, every vote will count for Democratic leaders.
It was more than a year ago that Obama asked Congress to approve legislation extending health coverage to some 31 million who lack it, curbing industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, and beginning to slow the growth of health care nationally.
His plan would require most Americans to buy health insurance, fine most who fail to do so and provide government subsidies to help middle-income earners and the working poor afford it.
Sweeping legislation seemed to be on the brink of passage in January, after both houses approved bills and lawmakers began working out a final compromise in talks at the White House. But those efforts were sidetracked when Republicans won a special election in Massachusetts — and with it, the ability to block a vote on a final bill in the Senate.
Now, nearly two months later, lawmakers have embarked on a two-step approach that requires the House to approve the measure passed by the Senate, despite misgivings on key provisions. That would be followed by both houses quickly passing a second bill that makes numerous changes to the first. In the Senate, that second bill would come to a vote under rules that deny Republicans the ability to filibuster.
House Democrats triggered the countdown Monday for the climactic vote, with the House Budget Committee agreeing 21-16 to fast-track rules for the health bill, a necessary first step before floor action.
Even so, the legislation remained incomplete. House Democrats caucused Monday evening, and a number of rank-and-file lawmakers straggled out discouraged that they still didn’t have final legislative language or a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.
Associated Press writers David Espo, Ben Feller, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Alan Fram, Charles Babington, Ann Sanner and Sam Hananel contributed from Washington. Seanna Adcox contributed from South Carolina.
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