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White House says Obama’s health care fix will pass this week

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Top aides to President Barack Obama confidently predicted Sunday that his signature health care overhaul would finally pass through Congress this week, after a year of costly political wrangling.

“I think we will have the votes to pass this,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s senior advisor, as their Democratic Party allies in the House of Representatives prepared the final push for the reform legislation. Obama Friday delayed a trip to Asia by three days, until March 21, in hopes the plan that would extend health coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans could be voted into law and reach his desk for signature before he left. Democratic leaders in the House are struggling to garner the 216 votes needed to adopt a measure already passed in the Senate, even though they hold more than 250 seats in the 435-member chamber.

“We don’t have them as of this morning, but we’ve been working this thing all weekend, we’ll be working it going into the week,” said Democratic House “whip” James Clyburn tasked with rallying lawmakers from his party to vote for legislation. “I’m also very confident that we’ll get this done,” Clyburn told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, was also confident. “I think the House will have passed the Senate bill a week from today,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation program. Equally resolute opposition Republicans, however, vowed to pull out all the stops to ensure that Democrats’ health overhaul plan fails. “I’m doing everything I can to prevent this bill from becoming law — plain and simple,” said top House Republican John Boehner, who said he strongly doubts that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has even garnered sufficient backing to pass the bill.

“If she had 216 votes, this bill would be long gone,” Boehner told CNN television. “They tried to pass it in September, October, November, December, January, February. Guess what? They don’t have the votes,” he said. And Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who called the bill “a political kamikaze mission for the Democrats,” vowed they would pay a heavy price in November’s midterm elections if they prevail. “It will define every Democratic congressional race in November — and it will be a political wipeout for the Democratic Party,” Alexander told CBS television. Opposition Republican lawmakers unanimously oppose Obama’s health overhaul plan, saying it would push up medical insurance costs for consumers, expand the government’s reach unnecessarily and add to the country’s skyrocketing debt.

The bill extends health coverage to uninsured Americans and would bar insurance companies from refusing coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions. But Democrats point to independent analyses which show the plan would lower health insurance premiums for most people and reduce the federal budget deficit, say the Republican opposition is simply aimed at wounding Obama politically ahead of key midterm elections in November. The plan under consideration faces opposition not just from Republicans, but also from some House Democrats who say it doesn’t go far enough in reining in private insurers.

Others want safeguards to ensure the health insurance cannot be used to pay for abortions. To drag the bill over the finish line, the White House and its allies have devised an intricate plan that would have House Democrats pass a Senate version of health reform — one that is less far-reaching than an earlier House bill, and which includes some controversial spending designed to attract votes from key senators. Obama would sign the bill into law before leaving for Asia, and then both chambers would pass “fixes” to the legislation demanded by the House Democrats.

That process, known as “reconciliation,” would let Democrats frustrate Republican filibuster obstruction tactics in the Senate and allow the health care overhaul to be finalized before Congress goes into recess on March 26. Some House Democrats have expressed doubts that Senate Democrats can be counted on to follow through with the game plan, but the number two Senate Democrat Dick Durbin tried to allay those concerns. “We’re in the process of actually contacting every single Democratic senator,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

“When Nancy Pelosi goes before her House Democratic caucus, it will be with the solid assurance that when reconciliation comes over to the Senate side, we’re going to pass it,” he said. Analysts said that after investing so much political capital, failure to pass some type of health reform would be a disaster for Democrats and would call into question their capacity to govern, given their control of the House, Senate and the presidency. Obama also would see his credibility compromised and likely would struggle to pull together coalitions on climate change, immigration reform and other political battles that lie ahead.

Washington, March 14, 2010 (AFP)