Obama 'confident' health-care bill will pass

Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich says he will reverse an earlier vote and support President Barack Obama's health care overhaul bill when the House considers it in coming days. The Ohio Democrat had been lobbied hard by the president himself.
By Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010

President Obama claimed his first convert on health-care reform Wednesday, as senior Democrats, labor unions and an array of interest groups intensified their efforts to sway wavering lawmakers before a climactic vote in the House this weekend.

House leaders expressed increasing optimism about pushing Obama's top domestic initiative to final passage, even as they continued to tinker with the last element of the package and their day for a vote appeared to slip to Sunday. Taking a break from his face-to-face efforts to win support for the measure, Obama made a rare appearance on Fox News Channel to declare that, after a year-long battle, Congress is finally poised to deliver the far-reaching overhaul to his desk.

"I'm confident it will pass. And the reason I'm confident that it's going to pass is because it's the right thing to do," the president said in a sometimes testy interview with reporter Bret Baier, who repeatedly prodded him about special deals in the package that were used to win over recalcitrant lawmakers, as well as a much-criticized parliamentary maneuver that the House may employ.

The interview interrupted a presidential schedule packed with calls to Capitol Hill, where House leaders said Obama has focused on the 37 House Democrats who voted against health-care legislation in November but may be open to supporting the latest package. Over the past few days, Obama has met privately with at least half a dozen dissenting Democrats in the Oval Office, and lobbied others by phone.

Those efforts paid off Wednesday, when Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) said at a packed news conference that he will back the still-unfinished package, even though the measure would perpetuate the for-profit insurance system that Kucinich, a former presidential candidate and die-hard advocate of government-provided coverage, views as the source of the nation's health-care problems.

"I have doubts about this bill. This is not the bill I wanted to support," the lawmaker said, adding that "careful discussions" with Obama this week on Air Force One helped persuade him. "I know I have to make a decision not on the bill as I would like to see it, but as it is," he said.

Meanwhile, in an unusual schism within the Catholic Church over abortion, a consortium of 59,000 nuns waded into the debate, declaring their support for the legislation despite the insistence of the nation's bishops and antiabortion groups that it would open the door to federal funding of abortion.

"Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions," the group said in a letter signed by leaders of dozens of religious orders. "It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments . . . in support of pregnant women. This is the real pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it."

The nuns' announcement is expected to resonate among a clutch of House Democrats who voted for a health-care bill last fall but have raised objections to abortion provisions in the Senate measure, which the House must approve as part of a final compromise. The group is being closely watched by House leaders trying to put together a 216-vote majority; two of the Democrats -- Reps. Dale E. Kildee (Mich.) and James L. Oberstar (Minn.) -- said Wednesday that they will continue to support Obama's effort to enact the most ambitious changes to the nation's health-care system in more than 40 years. A coalition of the largest labor unions also announced an ad campaign intended to get holdout Democrats behind the package.

"People are looking at the substance of the bill and hearing more and more from their constituents that they have a choice between doing nothing, the status quo, or supporting this health-care legislation," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the House leadership. "A lot of people are taking a second look at what this legislation is about."

The day's events seemed to boost the outlook of House leaders, even as they were unable for a second day to deliver on promises that they would present a package of changes intended to tailor the $875 billion health-care expansion the Senate passed on Christmas Eve to the demands of House members. Lawmakers were still waiting late Wednesday for a final cost estimate on the revisions, which must significantly reduce deficits over the next 20 years. After initially hoping for a Friday vote on both measures, senior Democrats said a Sunday vote looks increasingly likely.

But House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he remains doubtful that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her lieutenants can persuade 216 Democrats to back a package that he says lacks support among voters and has united Republicans in opposition.

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