March 16, 2010 in Nation/World

House begins final health push

Speaker Pelosi still rounding up final votes needed for passage
Noam N. Levey And Janet Hook Tribune Washington bureau
Associated Press photo

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, hands seen in foreground, attends a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday, following a meeting with children’s advocates regarding health care reform.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – Democrats on Monday began their climactic push to move health care legislation through the House by the end of the week, as President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior leaders stepped up their efforts to win over the last wavering lawmakers needed for passage of the historic bill.

Obama took the case for action to suburban Cleveland on Monday, where he held his third campaign-style health care rally in eight days even as he continued his private effort to press House Democrats to support the legislation.

At a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, Pelosi, of California, urged her Democratic colleagues to get behind the sweeping health care overhaul.

And, with the end of a yearlong struggle in sight, consumer groups, labor unions, industry associations and business groups intensified pressure on Democratic lawmakers who remain on the fence. Many are facing a barrage of television advertising in their districts, including a $10 million campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading critic of the bill.

Meanwhile, the liberal grass-roots group, which once targeted centrist Democrats who backed compromise legislation, is now asking members for contributions to support primary challenges to Democrats who vote against the health care bill.

“In nearly 30 years of doing this, I can’t remember a time when there has been as much focused and frenetic activity,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, an influential consumer group that is targeting between 30 and 40 House Democrats.

The behind-the-scenes pressure from Democratic leaders is focused primarily on conservative Democrats, as most liberals have already resigned themselves to supporting the legislation, even though it lacks a so-called “public option” and other features they favor. Many conservatives, particularly so-called Blue Dogs, are concerned about cost and the bill’s sweeping scope.

Democratic leaders acknowledge that they don’t yet have the votes to move the president’s top domestic priority forward.

Many rank-and-file Democrats are deeply concerned about details of the legislation and the complex parliamentary maneuvering being contemplated by party leaders as a result of the party’s loss of its filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Republican lawmakers remain opposed to the legislation, which they have pledged to try to block first in the House and later in the Senate. As a result, Democrats are seeking to have the House approve the Senate-passed bill – avoiding the need to return the measure to the Senate.

Pelosi effectively started the clock ticking Monday afternoon, as the House Budget Committee took the first of several procedural steps that will be necessary to send legislation to the president’s desk before Easter.

As the committee met, Pelosi repeated her prediction that Democrats would pass a health care bill. “When we bring the bill to the floor, we will have the votes,” she said at the Capitol.

Obama also predicted victory. “I believe we are going to get the votes; we’re going to make this happen,” he told ABC News in an interview.

On Wednesday, the House Rules Committee is expected to take a more consequential step by wrapping together the Senate health care bill and the package of changes.

Democratic leaders are still working on the package, the details of which will likely determine whether Pelosi and her lieutenants will be able to secure the 216 votes they need by the end of the week.

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