Video: Obama to rally Democrats

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama to rally Democrats

    >>> good evening. even as snow fell in washington today, there was plenty of heat generated in the u.s. senate . the debate on a saturday session on one of the top items on president obama 's agenda, health care reform . at the same time the president sought to reassure struggling americans that he's also concentrating on the economy and jobs. nbc's mike viqueira starts us off tonight at the white house with details. mike?

    >> reporter: good evening, lester. the president is in washington and working this weekend, preparing a new economic proposal and urging the senate to move forward on health care . on what would normally be a quiet saturday in washington --

    >> i'd like to finish my answer to you, if i may.

    >> reporter: under the capitol dome , the health care debate raged on.

    >> i guarantee --

    >> i can tell the senator the deal.

    >> reporter: the senate meeting in a rare saturday session, and set for a repeat on sunday. when president obama will again appear in person. this time to urge senate democrats to remain unified and pass a bill by christmas.

    >> if there was ever a time we should be here, it's right now.

    >> reporter: it will not be easy. the president faces a solid wall of republican opposition.

    >> the longer we discuss this with the american people , the more unpopular it becomes.

    >> reporter: now, another fight looms in the coming days among democrats. as one of their own demands a vote to deny abortion coverage in any health plan getting government funds, much like what was done in the house last month. the weekend debate comes as the president shifts his public focus to jobs. over the last two days hosting a jobs summit and touring hard hit allentown, pennsylvania. today in his weekly address, mr. obama touted november's slight downturn in the unemployment rate , but says more needs to be done.

    >> a good trend isn't good enough. trends don't buy groceries.

    >> reporter: heading into an election year, democrats in congress want to see faster job growth and are readying new spending. among their proposals, extending unemployment insurance , spending more on road and bridge projects, tax cuts for small businesses and for so-called green technologies , much of it paid for with unused funds from last year's $700 billion bailout. but many expect employers to begin hiring in the next three months and worry about more spending as the economy recovers.

    >> we have to be very cognizant about not digging ourselves into an even deeper hole.

    >> reporter: and, lester, one of the democratic leaders in the health care debate, you saw him in that piece, max baucus of montana, under an ethical cloud tonight after it turns out he nominated his girlfriend who used to work for him in his senate office to be the top u.s. prosecutor in his home state of montana. baucus was besieged outside the senate chamber today by reporters. he said melodee hanes is highly qualified.

    >> mike viqueira thanks. more on

updated 12/5/2009 7:34:28 PM ET 2009-12-06T00:34:28

Republicans forced Democrats to vote in favor of cutting billions from providers of home care for older people as partisan debate flared Saturday during a rare weekend session on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Obama planned to travel to Capitol Hill on Sunday to help Democrats resolve internal disputes that stand in the way of Majority Leader Harry Reid bringing the 10-year, nearly $1 trillion legislation to a vote.

Ahead of his visit, Republicans, bent on making Democrats cast politically risky votes, offered their third amendment in the debate so far showcasing more than $400 billion in cuts to projected Medicare spending that would pay for the bill, mostly for subsidies to help extend coverage to millions of uninsured.

Like the other two, this one went down to defeat, on a vote of 53 to 41. The measure by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., would have eliminated $42 billion in cuts over 10 years to agencies that provide home health care to seniors under Medicare.

Four moderate Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the amendment: Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Lincoln flips
Underscoring the pressures on the moderates, Lincoln, who faces a difficult re-election next year, initially cast a "no" vote with the Democratic majority but switched to "yes" in the course of the 15-minute vote. Republicans accused her of flip-flopping, but Lincoln said later that she changed her vote after considering how important home health care is to Arkansas.

"That's why they give us 15 minutes," said Lincoln.

The more consequential action was taking place behind closed doors Saturday as Democrats struggled to find a compromise on a proposed government insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Lincoln and several other moderate Democrats are opposed to the government insurance plan in the bill, and Reid, D-Nev., doesn't have a vote to spare in his 60-member caucus.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined in some discussions and several senators cited progress on the issue. There was discussion of various options, including nonprofit insurance plans administered by the Office of Personnel Management, which runs the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

"I'm optimistic that something, I'm not sure what, but something can be arrived at," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "It's definitely going to be something that's of a nonprofit nature."

Reid called the unusual sessions as he races to finish the bill by Christmas. The weekend work also allowed him and other Democrats to highlight their commitment to Obama's signature issue, arguing that Americans can't take weekends off from worrying about health care, so the Senate shouldn't, either.

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Republicans, determined to stall if they can't kill the bill, weren't impressed.

"I think the majority leader believes that somehow if we stay in on weekends the Republicans are going to blink. I assure him we're not going to blink," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Lawmakers went at each other over who really wanted to protect older people.

Johanns said home health care agencies were being unfairly targeted in the legislation, noting that they account for 3.7 percent of the Medicare budget but would absorb 9.4 percent of the cuts to Medicare in the Senate bill. The percentage is even higher in the House version of the legislation, which passed last month.

"These are truly some of the most vulnerable Americans that receive these services and the cuts are placed directly on their backs," Johanns said.

Proposed cuts defended
Democrats said those cuts, and others to Medicare private insurance plans and providers, would reduce overpayments, inefficiency and waste in the popular program, thereby strengthening it. They noted repeatedly that AARP supports the overall cuts, and also produced a letter from the National Association for Home Care and Hospice in support.

The Dec. 4 letter said the group has "agreed to do its part by reducing costs and payments in a manner that makes the Medicare home care program more efficient and less susceptible to abuse."

But Democrats didn't want to let the Republican amendment go unanswered, so Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., offered an amendment stating that the bill would not reduce guaranteed home health benefits. It passed 96-0.

"They're busy talking about the cuts when this actually improves what Medicare beneficiaries are going to get," said Kerry, referring to new preventive services and other items in the bill.

MEDPAC, an organization established by Congress to advise lawmakers on Medicare, has projected that home health care agencies would be overpaid by Medicare in 2009 by margins of 12.2 percent overall. There are some 9,700 companies providing home health care under Medicare.

The overhaul legislation would provide coverage to more than 30 million more people over the next decade with a new requirement for nearly everyone to purchase insurance. There would be new marketplaces, lower-income people would get subsidies, the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor would grow, and there would be a ban on unpopular insurance company practices such as pulling coverage when someone gets sick.

Saturday was the sixth day of debate on the legislation.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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