Members of the House of Representatives are poised to vote Saturday on health care legislation, but a top Democratic leader acknowledged today that the vote may get pushed back to Sunday or later if there is not enough support to pass the bill on the floor.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said today that he still expects the vote to take place on Saturday, but that Democrats may not have the 218 votes needed for the bill to pass. He added that he has alerted lawmakers that they may need to return to the Hill on Sunday, and the vote could even spill to early next week.
"Unless there are delaying tactics or something I don't foresee, I think we can finish the bill by 7, 8 o'clock tomorrow night," Hoyer said in a conference call to reporters today. "There are still many people who are looking to get a comfort level that this is the right thing to do."
"We are on our path. We're very excited," she told reporters.
But the leadership needs the support of centrist Democrats, some of whom are skeptical of the bill's language on abortion and illegal immigrants.
President Obama will make a House call on Saturday to speak to Democrats and rally support for the legislation. He was originally slated to go there today but White House officials said the plan was changed because of the "events of the past few hours" and because the president "preferred to go slightly closer to the vote."
"The sales pitch is simply that we're on the cusp of the type of health care reform that this country has been talking about for decades," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. "I anticipate that the president will lay out why he thinks health care reform is important. He'll talk about it as an economic issue. I assume he will rally the troops."
Gibbs said the president will carry with him the message of "Do this for the country. Do this for your constituents. Do this for the people that you represent."
No Republicans are expected to support the legislation, which, they still argue, amounts to a government takeover of Americans' health care system.
"Now Speaker Pelosi is pressing ahead with her $1.3 trillion government takeover of health care," Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a press conference today. "The speaker's bill includes job-killing taxes and mandates that will hurt small businesses. And for the sake of our families and small businesses, this job-killing bill needs to be defeated."
The White House would like to be able to say that any bill that reaches the president is bipartisan, but on the House side at least, the signs of that happening are non-existent. Hoyer said Republican opposition will not keep Democrats from moving health care overhaul legislation ahead.
"We simply cannot afford to act," he said.
When asked by reporters whether Obama believes there are enough votes to pass the bill, Gibbs would only say, "We're going to go up there to talk to the House about passing health care reform and believe they will do so, yes."
Gibbs added that the bill the president signs will not fund abortions and illegal immigrants through the health insurance exchanges, a concern among some Democrats.
Health Care Before Economy?
Some GOP lawmakers argue that the administration should put the economy ahead of health care, especially given the record unemployment figures released today.
"I have never seen greater evidence that Washington, D.C. is out of touch with the American people than the fact that Democrats are going to continue in their headlong rush to pass a government takeover of health care in the wake of rising unemployment in this nation," House Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said today.
The jobless figures released today were higher than what economists expected, which could give some conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who had initially expressed concern about the costs of health care overhaul, a reason to re-think the health care bill.
Obama reiterated today that he will not "let up until the Americans who want to find work can find work," but it remains to be seen whether those words will be of any comfort to weary Democrats.
The House bill is expected to cost $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. That figure is above the $900 billion threshold set by the president, but proponents argue that it won't add to the deficit.
House Democrats got a boost yesterday from support of several influential organizations -- the AARP and the American Medical Association -- but they were also met by an overwhelming number of protestors who came from across the U.S. northeast to protest the overhaul.
The American Medical Association announced Thursday that it will back the House bill, but warned that much more work needs to be done.
The legislation is "not a perfect representation of AMA views but consistent with our goals to warrant our support to keep the process moving," American Medical Association President James Rohack said in a conference call to reporters.
"This legislation isn't perfect but this debate is not over," Rohack said.
When asked whether the organization has lost any members -- many doctors and medical organizations are opposed to some provisions in the bill -- Rohack said some members have indicated they will drop out but others have said they will join the association.
AARP Backs House Democrats Health Care Bill
The AARP, which boasts some 40 million members and also faced backlash for its support of the legislation, also on Thursday officially endorsed the House Democratic health care bill, saying it would close the coverage gap in Medicare prescription benefits, put strict limits on what health insurers can charge older workers too young for Medicare and create a voluntary, long-term care insurance program.
"We cannot continue to let insurers price older Americans out of the market, just as we cannot stand idle while millions of seniors are forced to choose between their groceries and their prescriptions," AARP chief executive Barry Rand said in a statement. "AARP is proud to endorse the Affordable Health Care for America Act and the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act, and we urge members of the House to pass this critical package in the coming days to help fix our broken health care system."
The endorsement from what is considered to be the most influential seniors' lobby comes at a time when many seniors are concerned about the impact of Democrats' legislation on their health care plans. The House bill calls for steep cuts in Medicare.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society, also threw its weight behind the House Democrats bill, saying it will improve health care for cancer patients and their families.
But the support from these influential organizations did little to tame the "tea party" protestors who gathered on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Chanting "Kill the Bill," they rallied outside the Capitol building and then some converged outside Pelosi's office, littering the hallway with torn copies of the 1,990-page House bill.
"The Democrats do not have the American people and their best interest at heart," Linda Giresi, who came from Union, N.J., told ABC News. "They have their own self interests at heart. And that is the root of this 2,000 page outrage."
Meanwhile, the Senate leadership has been rather quiet on their version of health care overhaul legislation, which has yet to be scored by Congressional Budget Office.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been mum on the contents of the bill, except to say it does include a public option plan. Unlike the House bill, however, the Senate plan gives states the option to opt out of a government-run insurance plan. Reid is still waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to come up with an estimated cost of several possible variations of his bill before deciding which one to introduce in the Senate.
House Democrats say their legislation would insure 36 million more people in the next 10 years, covering 96 percent of all Americans. That is more than the Senate bill, which would cover an estimated 29 million additional people.
The House bill would also expand Medicaid coverage and provide more support to low-income citizens.
House Democratic leaders argue that it would not add a dime to the deficit, an important factor considering President Obama has said he will not sign any legislation which does so.
Despite Pelosi's push to get health care legislation passed in the House, and the White House's confidence that it will get done by the year's end, senior Congressional Democrats have indicated that it is highly unlikely that a reform bill will be completed this year.