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Obama in sight of victory in key healthcare vote

The long, turbulent struggle over healthcare legislation has tilted in President Barack Obama's favour as undecided Democratic politicians begin choosing sides.

In full campaign mode, his voice rising, the President all but claimed victory yesterday, declaring to a cheering audience in Virginia: "We are going to fix healthcare in America."

With the showdown vote set for tomorrow in the House of Representatives, Mr Obama decided to make one final, personal appeal to rank-and-file Democrats.

Mr Obama has put his presidency on the line to gain passage of his top domestic priority in the face of unanimous opposition from Republicans who say the plan amounts to a government takeover of health care that will lead to higher deficits and taxes. The healthcare reform programme would affect nearly every American.

For the first time Americans would be required to have healthcare insurance and face penalties if they refused. The US is the only major industrialised country that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan.

Billions of dollars would be set aside for subsidies to help families on incomes of up to $88,000 dollars (€65,000) a year afford the cost.

Congressional leaders worked late last night attempting to resolve the dispute over abortion. Republican Bart Stupak, who succeeded last November in inserting strict anti-abortion language into the House bill, hoped to do so again. That prospect angered politicians who support abortion rights.

Mr Obama spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at a suburban university, lobbing attacks at the insurance industry with his jacket off and sleeves rolled up.

Following 153 pages of revisions to their bill, Democratic leaders were scrambling to gather the 216 votes they needed for passage.

So far at least six Democratic House members have switched from opposition to favouring the measure.