Obama makes last-ditch plea as health vote looms
THE final countdown began at 2pm on Thursday and will end at 2pm tomorrow -- 72 hours for America's most powerful Democrats to wrestle a handful of little-known congressmen into line and save a presidency.
On the face of it, the 2,700-page Health Reform Bill -- on which the US House of Representatives will vote as the nation sits down to Sunday brunch -- is a maze of mind-boggling numbers, means-tested subsidies and deferred tax incentives.
Behind it, an intensely human drama is being played out in which the champions of rugged individualism fight tooth-and-nail to defeat a plan to help the poorest 30 million people in the world's richest country.
"We are going to do something historic," Mr Obama told a crowd of students in Virginia yesterday, in his 54th speech on health reform in less than a year. He called the bill "a patients' bill of rights on steroids".
But across the Potomac, emboldened by a new poll showing that just 28pc of Americans believe the bill will help them, John Boehner, the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives, told reporters: "If anyone thinks the American people are going to forgive this vote, just watch."
Mr Boehner had in mind the November midterm elections, which Republicans hope to turn into a referendum on healthcare, with efforts already under way in six states to repeal the law should Mr Obama sign it.
First, Democrats must assemble 216 votes in the Lower House to pass a bill already approved by the Senate. Party leaders have spoken cautiously of gathering momentum as a trickle of waverers switched from the "no" to the "yes" column in the past 48 hours, but no one close to the White House was declaring victory yesterday.
"Every vote is a heavy lift," Nancy Pelosi, the house speaker, said -- and Mr Obama has been doing much of the lifting.
He flew Dennis Kucinich, a leading left-wing critic of the bill, to Ohio on Air Force One last week and has since placed calls to three dozen moderate Democrats who fear the price of backing the bill will be defeat in the midterms.
While Republicans are confident of at least 200 "no" votes, Democrats have been helped in their agonising progress towards 216 by an endorsement from the powerful AFL-CIO union and an official verdict on the bill's impact on the economy from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
According to the CBO, the plan will extend insurance cover to 95pc of Americans at a cost of $940bn (€694bn) over 10 years. (© The Times, London)