Obama in last push for healthcare bill
US President Barack Obama set his sights on rallying House Democrats last night for a final healthcare push ahead of a critical vote that could make or break his presidency, capping off a long, turbulent debate that has left the country deeply divided.
Democratic leaders appeared confident they had overcome a flare-up within their ranks over abortion funding restrictions in the legislation that was the last big hurdle to securing the few votes needed to pass the landmark legislation.
With the vote scheduled for today, the battle tilted in Mr Obama's direction as more Democrats disclosed how they would vote.
Mr Obama can rely only on Democrats 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 healthcare that will lead to higher deficits and taxes.
The president decided to make a final personal appeal with a visit to the Capitol yesterday, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was expected to reassure House rank-and-file Democrats that the Senate would approve their fixes to the legislation. Reid's means would be a letter indicating he had votes from at least 50 Senate Democrats.
The legislation, affecting virtually every American and more than a year in the making, would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, forbid insurers to deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and cut federal deficits by around $138bn (€102bn) over a decade. For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and they would face penalties if they refused.
Billions of dollars would be set aside for subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 (€65,055) a year afford the cost. And the legislation also provides for an expansion of Medicaid that would give government-paid health care to millions more low-income Americans.
Congressional analysts estimate the cost of the two bills combined would be $940bn over a decade. The bill would remake one sixth of the US economy. The US is the only major industrialised country that does not have a comprehensive healthcare plan.
Scrambling to gather the 216 votes needed for passage in the House, Democratic leaders and Mr Obama focused on last-minute lobbying efforts on two groups of Democrats: 37 who voted against an earlier bill in the House and 40 who voted for it only after first making sure it would include strict abortion limits that now have been modified.