Obama Delays International Trip, Says Health Bill Is Rx for Deficit

CBO: Bill would reduce deficit by $138 billion over ten years.

March 10, 2010, 3:43 PM

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2010— -- President Obama again postponed a trip to Australia and Indonesia because of an expected House vote on health care reform, which Democrats now say will likely not come before Sunday afternoon.

The president was scheduled to depart for his international trip on Sunday, but the White House said the president postponed his visit "in order to remain in Washington for this critical vote, " White House Press Secretary Robert Giibs said.

"The president greatly regrets the delay," Gibbs added.

The long awaited analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office was released today and predicts the legislation will reduce the deficit by $138 billion over ten years.

The controversial measure will cost $940 billion over the same ten years.

However, the CBO stated explicitly that its projections are only preliminary.

The final version of the bill was posted on line Friday afternoon, which Democrats promised to do at least 36 hours before a vote.

Obama hailed the bill this morning as the "most significant effort to reduce the deficit since the Balanced Budget Act" of the 1990's.

"This is but one virtue of a reform that will bring new accountability," Obama said while signing the jobs bill at the White House. He urged undecided members of Congress to vote for the health care bill.

Even before the nonpartisan CBO released the numbers officially, Democrats announced them earlier this morning in jubilation. The CBO's estimates are good news for House Democrats because of the deficit reduction.

The health care bill makes "fixes" to the Senate health care bill, which passed on Christmas Eve after months of debate and negotiation.

Earlier this week, Rep. James Clyburn, D-.S.C., who is in charge of marshalling votes for Democrats, said he did not yet have the votes to pass the bill. But the deficit reduction in the CBO score will help matters, Clyburn said today. Democratic leaders, he added, are "absolutely giddy" about the numbers, and he will start asking wavering members for commitments on the bill starting this evening.

"We are much closer today," he added.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, still looking for votes to pass health reform legislation in the House, said every vote is a "heavy lift."

"We have great diversity in our caucus. We don't have a rubber stamp Congress, or a rubber stamp caucus," she told reporters Thursday.

Democratic leaders say two-thirds of the costs of the bill come from savings primarily in Medicare.

Eleven GOP lawmakers who are doctors railed against Democrats' health care reform plan this afternoon, demonstrating the increasingly heated and personal rhetoric surrounding the health reform bill.

"I have three simple questions Ms. Pelosi," said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., referring to the speaker of the House. "Are you so arrogant that you think you know what's best for the American people? Are you so ignorant that you are oblivious to the wishes of the American people? And are you so incompetent that you are going to ignore the Constitution of the United States, use tricks, deceptions, bald faced lies to try to ram down the throat of the American people something that they do not want and is going to be absolutely worse for their health care?"

Pelosi, D-Calif., needs 216 votes -- a majority of the House's 431 members -- to pass the Senate bill and changes to it. About 23 lawmakers are still undecided or have said they will vote "No" on the current health care bill.

Democratic leaders still do not have all the votes they need to pass the health care bill in the House, but they appear to be inching closer to that number, nabbing the votes of several key lawmakers -- Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., and Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Co.

If they are not able to garner enough votes, Democratic leaders have hinted they may employ a parliamentary maneuver dubbed as "deem and pass."

The controversial procedure would allow House members to vote on health care changes without ever voting directly on the Senate bill. In this case, the House would vote on a "fix it" measure that would make changes to the Senate health care bill and then automatically, in the process, pass the bill without actually having to vote on it.

The procedure has been used 20 times over the last 30 years by both Democrats and Republicans, often on technical or unpopular measures like raising the debt limit, but never on one as big as health care reform.

Republicans have opposed such a measure, charging that it has never been used for a bill this size and that using it would just be a way of fooling the American public.

All 41 Republican senators have vowed to do everything in their power to kill Democrats' health care legislation and vote together against procedural motions that Democrats want to use to "fix" the health care reform bill passed Christmas Eve by the Senate.

Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called on undecided members of Congress to vote against the bill. "It's not too late," McConnell said at a press conference where he was joined by GOP leaders from both the House and Senate.

Obama Ups Pressure on Undecided Lawmakers

President Obama has ratcheted up the pressure on undecided Democrats, personally reaching out to those party members in the House who are still undecided or are vowing to vote "No."

In an interview with Fox News Wednesday, the president appealed to the constituents of conservative House Democrats to urge them to vote "Yes."

"What I can tell you is that the vote that's taken in the House will be a vote for health care reform. And if people vote yes, whatever form that takes, that is going to be a vote for health care reform. And I don't think we should pretend otherwise," Obama said in an interview with Fox News' Bret Baier. "If they don't, if they vote against, then they're going to be voting against health care reform and they're going to be voting in favor of the status quo.

"So Washington gets very concerned about these procedural issues in Congress. This is always an issue that's -- whether Republicans are in charge or Democrats in charge -- when Republicans are in charge, Democrats constantly complain that the majority was not giving them an opportunity, et cetera," he added.

The president was referring to the controversy surrounding the parliamentary procedure Democrats may use if they cannot get the 216 votes they need.

Vice President Biden joked about the difficulties of tackling the health care bill at the annual Radio-TV Correspondents dinner Wednesday evening.

"Trying to negotiate a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis is tough. But it was a hell of a nice break from health care," Biden quipped.

Members of Congress are under increasing pressure from all sides on the health care bill. Some union leaders are telling wavering Democrats that if they vote against the health care bill, they might not get any union support in November's mid-term election.

"We're telling them that we supported them on that basis and if they can't stand up for their promises, then we have to consider what else we can do," said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union.

Others are making a much darker prediction about what the health care debate could do to Obama's presidency.

"This is not health care reform. The bill is a joke, but at this point it's really just turned into this game between the Republicans trying to do everything they can to stop President Obama from doing some good for this country and frankly, if this -- if this goes down I don't know how the president will recover from that and I don't know what else we're going to be able to get through," liberal filmmaker Michael Moore told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Wednesday.

The Democratic Senate bill includes a tax on insurance companies for high-cost health care -- so-called Cadillac insurance plans. The White House is proposing to add a transition period for everyone, not just union members, who had opposed the tax. The tax wouldn't start until 2018; it would be for family insurance plans costing $27,500 and more, with exceptions for high-risk professions and others. At the same time, instead of raising $150 billion in 10 years, it would bring in just $30 billion, per the White House proposal. It is unclear what the House Democrats are proposing since the entire bill has not yet been released.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Jake Tapper and Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

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