House Democrats closer to passing health care bill

Key members pledge support for measure

Representative Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, announced yesterday that he would vote for the Senate version of the health care overhaul. He was the first Democrat to say he would vote in favor of the bill after voting against an earlier version. Representative Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, announced yesterday that he would vote for the Senate version of the health care overhaul. He was the first Democrat to say he would vote in favor of the bill after voting against an earlier version. (Tim Sloan/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear
New York Times / March 18, 2010

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WASHINGTON — House Democrats locked in two more votes yesterday as they inched toward the majority they need to pass health care legislation, giving them added confidence as they worked out the last details of the bill and girded for a historic showdown as soon as this weekend.

Behind the scenes, Democratic leaders were still working to secure backing for the legislation from among about three dozen members of the party whose votes are considered to be in play, even as they awaited a final price tag on the bill from the Congressional Budget Office.

But they sought to portray the measure as gaining momentum from the public declarations of support from two Democrats: Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, who had previously opposed it, and Representative Dale E. Kildee of Michigan, who had been among a group seeking tighter restrictions on the financing of insurance covering abortions.

Democratic leaders say they have not nailed down the 216 votes they need for passage, but they are pressing ahead in the belief that they can get them. The House Democratic leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, said the House could take a final vote on the legislation by Sunday.

The endorsement from Kucinich suggested that Democrats who have been pushing for more ambitious legislation might put aside their reservations and unite behind the bill as their best opportunity to secure health insurance for millions of Americans who now lack it. Backing for the bill from Kildee — and new support from nuns who lead major Roman Catholic religious orders — indicated that Democrats were having some success in addressing an issue that has cost the votes of some Democrats who oppose abortion rights.

But House Republicans said they still believed they could block the bill, a top priority for President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Under a two-step plan devised by House Democratic leaders, the House would approve the health care bill passed by the Senate in December, then make changes in a separate bill using a procedure known as budget reconciliation to avoid the threat of a filibuster in the Senate. Republicans like Representative David Dreier of California have accused Democrats of ducking a straight-up vote on the Senate bill, which has provisions many House Democrats do not like.

In an interview with Fox News, Obama dismissed Republican criticisms of the parliamentary tactics, saying he does not “spend a lot of time worrying about what the procedural rules are.’’

“What I can tell you is that the vote that’s taken in the House will be a vote for health care reform,’’ Obama said. “And if people vote yes, whatever form that takes, that is going to be a vote for health care reform.’’

Obama likened the measure to fixing the financial system or passing the economic recovery act. “I knew these things might not be popular, but I was absolutely positive that it was the right thing to do,’’ he said.

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said Republicans were engaged in a variety of activities to stir opposition to the health bill in the home districts of Democrats considered vulnerable in the November elections.

“We are going to do everything we can to put the pressure on these guys because they are going to have to choose,’’ said Boehner. “Are they going to vote with Nancy Pelosi and the president, or are they going to vote with their constituents?’’

“It’s going to be a wild ride,’’ Boehner predicted.

Besides securing commitments from Kucinich and Kildee, House Democratic leaders said they were pleased at the prospect of winning support from Representative James L. Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, an opponent of abortion.

John A. Schadl, a spokesman for Oberstar, said he was “a strong likely yes’’ on the health care bill. Schadl said the congressman was generally satisfied that the bill before the House would not allow the spending of federal money on abortion.

Democrats had hoped to unveil the text of the reconciliation bill yesterday, setting up the possibility of a decisive vote on Saturday. But they said the Congressional Budget Office was still analyzing the cost of some provisions.

House Democratic leaders have promised that lawmakers would be given 72 hours to review the legislation before voting on it.

The number two Democrat in the Senate, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, said the Senate could pass the reconciliation bill as soon as next week if the House approves it over the weekend.

In announcing his support, Kucinich said he would keep working for a government-financed, single-payer health care system. But after coming under intense pressure, which included a visit to his district on Monday by Obama, Kucinich said he did not want his objections to stand in the way of the legislation.

“If my vote is to be counted, let it count now for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive health care reform,’’ Kucinich said.

Explaining factors he had considered in making his decision, Kucinich said, “We have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate.

“Something is better than nothing — that’s what I keep hearing from my constituents,’’ Kucinich said.

At the same time, Democrats said they were making progress on the divisive issue of abortion.

Kildee voted for the House health care bill in November, after Representative Bart Stupak, also a Michigan Democrat, won passage of an amendment imposing tight restrictions on insurance coverage for abortions.

Stupak has said he will vote against the Senate bill because he sees the restrictions on abortion as inadequate.

But Kildee said he was satisfied the provisions in the Senate bill would prevent the use of federal money for coverage of abortions.

“I have always respected and cherished the sanctity of human life,’’ Kildee said. “I spent six years studying to be a priest and was willing to devote my life to God.’’

“I have listened carefully to both sides, sought counsel from my priest, advice from family, friends and constituents and I have read the Senate abortion language more than a dozen times,’’ Kildee said. “I am convinced that the Senate language maintains the Hyde Amendment, which states that no federal money can be used for abortion.’’

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