US Democrats predict historic health bill will pass

Democratic leaders in the House of
Representatives predicted that a rare Sunday session will produce one of the
most significant legislative triumphs in decades: passage of a landmark bill to
overhaul the U.S. health care system to provide coverage to millions of people
who currently lack it.

President Barack Obama, who
campaigned on a platform of change, has made health care reform his top
domestic priority and the defining issue of his first year in office, setting
off a tumultuous debate that has left the country deeply divided.

If passed, the reform is likely to
be judged alongside the boldest acts of presidents and Congress in domestic
affairs. While national health care has long been a goal of presidents
stretching back decades, it has proved elusive, in part because self-reliance
and suspicion of a strong central government remain strong in the U.S.

The House of Representatives is due
to vote on a bill that would clamp down on the insurance industry and make
forecast savings of $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years

In the hours before the vote, House
Democratic leaders were still trying to nail down commitments from a handful of
members, some of whom remained concerned about the abortion issue.

“There are still members
looking at it and trying to make up their minds,” House Democratic leader
Steny Hoyer said on NBC television’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, enough to ensure the
measure’s passage.

Republicans attributed the caution
to public controversy over the plan, which played out in angry protests at the
doorstep of the Capitol during the House of Representatives’ rare weekend
session.

The last-minute holdouts gave the
House vote scheduled Sunday a measure of suspense, despite the Democrats’
optimism. House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson stopped just short of
declaring victory.

“We have the votes now — as we
speak,” Larson 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 when control of Congress is at stake if the fiercely debated
measure becomes law. Republicans contend the plan amounts to a government
takeover of health care that will lead to higher deficits and taxes.

“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, 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 (1700 GMT) and begin voting an
hour later.

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 few Democrats who
remained uncommitted ahead of Sunday’s vote.

The United States is alone among
developed nations in not offering its citizens comprehensive health care, with
nearly 50 million Americans uninsured.

Although the bill before Congress
does not provide universal health care, it should expand coverage to about 95
percent of Americans. It would require most Americans to carry insurance with
subsidies for those who can’t afford it, expand the government-run Medicaid
program for the poor, and create new marketplaces where self-employed people
and small businesses can pool together to buy health care.

The 10-year, $940 billion measure
represents the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare and
Medicaid were enacted in the 1960s to provide government-funded health care
coverage to the elderly and poor.

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President Barack Obama.
PHOTO: FILE
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