WASHINGTON, March 11, 2010 -- Democratic lawmakers say they are close to a final deal on a health care bill, but serious questions remain as to whether the final legislation can be passed by President Obama's deadline of March 18, when he departs for Indonesia and Australia.
The president was on the road this week selling his health care proposal in Glenside, Pa., on Tuesday and St. Charles, Mo., on Wednesday.
House and Senate Democrats continue to negotiate intensely on writing a compromise bill, the drafting of which in committee could happen as soon as Friday. But some Democrats are pushing back hard on the president's deadline, even as White House officials insist that imposing a deadline is the only way to get Congress to act. The Congressional Budget Office is also slated to release its cost assessment of the White House health care bill any day, which could alter the dynamics.
Late Wednesday night, Democrats emerged from a closed door meeting and said they were close to an agreement on a compromise bill that could pass both the House and the Senate.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview with Charlie Rose that aired on Bloomberg News Wednesday that there are enough votes in the House to pass the health care bill "if we took it up today."
Outside Washington, a fired-up Obama took a campaign-like tone to urge Congress to vote 'yes' on health care reform.
"I believe Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote on health care reform. The time for talk is over. It's time to vote," the president said in the battleground state of Missouri, where he was campaigning for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "We are not backing down, we are not quitting and we are going to get this done," he shouted.
He even turned a sneeze into a talking point.
"This health care debate's been hard on my health, I got to tell you," Obama said to laughter.
As the fight for health care reform enters its final throes, the health care insurance industry is pledging up to $10 million to defeat the proposal.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius went into the belly of the beast, speaking to insurance executives at their conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. to propose a different path.
"Instead of spending energy attacking the parts of the proposal that you don't like, come to the table with strengthening the parts that are there that you talked about from the beginning are essential comprehensive reform," Sebelius said.
Can a Health Care Bill Be Passed by March 18?
Away from the microphones and cameras, Democrats are strategizing about how to get a majority of House Democrats to support the bill that passed the Senate.
Obama has told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to remove from the final compromise bill all the special deals that were cut to secure the support of individual lawmakers -- not just the ones for Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., that had been previously announced as on the chopping block.
One problem is that many anti-abortion Democrats do not like the somewhat less restrictive language on abortion in the Senate bill.
One solution would restore the more restrictive language, but anti-abortion Republicans have said they would vote with abortion rights supporters to torpedo the whole deal, just to kill the health care bill.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he would vote against the bill regardless of which language is chosen.
"It won't happen because pro-life members like me, I won't vote for it. So you have large numbers of pro-life members who will never vote for it," Coburn, a doctor, said.
Republicans have upped their battle cry as the health care debate enters its final phase.
Former Rep. Eric Massa's resignation briefly entered the fray this week when he alleged that he was being ousted because he had refused to vote for the House health care reform bill last year. Yet, after his appearance on a FOX News show earlier this week, his allegations have been largely dismissed by both sides.
"The fact is, this whole debate has devolved into a little bit of a farce, and it might actually be funny if the stakes weren't so high," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
For one Democrat, the force driving that farce is the media, which earned the scorn of Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., Wednesday for focusing away from substance.
"If anyone wants to know where the cynicism is, there's two press people in this gallery," Kennedy yelled as the House debated a measure sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, setting a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. "We're talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV. We're talking about war and peace -- $3 billion, 1,000 lives -- and no press, no press."
"It's despicable, the national press corps right now," he said.
ABC News' Huma Khan contibuted to this report.