Video: Dems seek key health overhaul votes

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    >>> is this the week that health care overhaul passes through congress? aides to president obama say they're confident but they don't appear to have the votes just yet. savannah guthrie is at the white house with more on this. good morning to you.

    >> reporter: good morning, matt. we've said it before, but this is it. the white house press secretary boldly predicted that by this time next week, health care will be the law of the land , but privately aides acknowledge this one is coming down to the wire. beginning a week democrats hope will end with the health care bill finally passed, the president's senior adviser on "meet the press" was optimistic.

    >> it's time to bring this to a close.

    >> and you're going to get it passed?

    >> i'm confident.

    >> reporter: house democratic leaders were realistic, acknowledging at the moment they don't have the votes.

    >> no, we don't have them as of this morning. but we've been working this thing all weekend. we'll be working it going into the week. i'm also very confident that we'll get this done.

    >> reporter: to get it done, house leaders need 216 votes, wavering house democrats are waiting on a final score from the congressional budget office this week, worried about the bill's cost. other democrats are vowing to vote no, because they want tougher language outlawing federal funding of abortion. under the democrats' road map for the coming week, house members will have to pass the senate's version of health care , which many don't like, then trust the senate to pass a series of fixes through a process called reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority of the senate. on sunday, senate leaders sought to reassure house democrats they won't leave them in the lurch.

    >> when nancy pelosi goes before her house democratic caucus , it will be with the solid assurance that when reconciliation comes over to the senate side, we're going to pass it.

    >> reporter: a key republican warns sunday if democrats use reconciliation, bipartisanship is over.

    >> if they do this, it's going to poison the well for anything else they would like to achieve this year or thereafter.

    >> reporter: pressed by congressional leaders, the president has delayed his trip to indonesia and australia, to be there for the last-minute negotiating and arm twisting that may be required. house speaker nancy pel oosi has made clear she will need him.

    >> i'm delighted that the president will be here for the passage of the bill. it's going to be historic.

    >> reporter: the president will be on the road one more time today, making his closing argument in strongsville, ohio. that is the home of a woman named natoma canfield, who wrote the president a letter about her skyrocketing premiums. the president read that to insurance executives. she is too sick to be there with the president, but her sister will introduce president obama today, matt.

    >> savannah, thank you very much. savannah guthrie at the white house .

updated 3/14/2010 5:40:02 PM ET 2010-03-14T21:40:02

The House's chief Democratic headcounter said Sunday he hadn't rounded up enough votes to pass President Barack Obama's health care overhaul heading into a make-or-break week, even as the White House's top political adviser said he was "absolutely confident" in its prospects.

The administration gave signs of retreating on demands that senators jettison special home-state deals sought by individual lawmakers that have angered the public.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted House passage this week, before Obama travels to Asia, a trip he postponed to push for the bill.

"This is the week where we will have this important vote," Gibbs said. "I do think this is the climactic week for health care reform."

Political strategist David Axelrod said Democrats will persuade enough lawmakers to vote "yes." The House GOP leader, Ohio Rep. John Boehner, took up the challenge, acknowledging Republicans alone can't stop the measure, but pledging to do "everything we can to make it difficult for them, if not impossible, to pass the bill." Republicans believe they may get help from Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns.

Axelrod said it will be a struggle, taking aim at insurance industry lobbyists who "have landed on Capitol Hill like locusts" and Republicans who see being on the losing side of the vote as a political victory.

"I am absolutely confident that we are going to be successful. I believe that there is a sense of urgency on the part of members of Congress," given recent news about insurance plan rate increases, Axelrod said.

‘Working this thing all weekend’
A dose of reality came from Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat and main vote counter. "No, we don't have them as of this morning, but we've been working this thing all weekend," said Clyburn, D-S.C.

Clyburn said he was confident the measure would pass, echoing comments from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Saturday.

Axelrod also indicated the White House was backing down on an attempt to get senators to rid the legislation of a number of lawmakers' special deals.

Taking a new position, he said the White House only objects to state-specific arrangements, such as an increase in Medicaid funding for Nebraska, ridiculed as the "Cornhusker Kickback." That's being cut, but provisions that could affect more than one state are OK, Axelrod said.

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That means that deals sought by senators from Montana and Connecticut would be fine — even though Gibbs last week singled them out as items Obama wanted removed. There was resistance, however, from two powerful committee chairman, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, and the White House has apparently backed down.

"The principle that we want to apply is that are these — are these applicable to all states? Even if they do not qualify now, would they qualify under certain sets of circumstances," Axelrod said.

That's the argument made by aides to Baucus and Dodd. The measure to give Medicare coverage to asbestos-sickened residents of Libby, Mont., could apply to other places where public health emergencies are declared — even though Libby is the only place where that's happened so far. Dodd's deal would leave it up to the health secretary to decide where to spend $100 million for construction of a hospital, though Dodd has made clear he hopes the University of Connecticut would be the beneficiary.

Trying to increase public pressure on Congress to pass the legislation, Obama planned to travel on Monday to Strongsville, Ohio, the home of cancer patient Natoma Canfield, who wrote the president that she gave up her health insurance premium after it rose to $8,500 a year. Canfield is a self-employed cleaning worker who lives in the Cleveland suburb.

Gibbs said she had to decide between keeping her health insurance or her house, and chose to keep her house.

‘A couple of Republican bread crumbs’
Boehner said Democrats never made a serious attempt to incorporate GOP ideas in the measure, saying they took only "a couple of Republican bread crumbs and put them on top of their 2,700-page bill."

The legislation would provide health insurance to tens of millions who currently have none and would ban insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions. It would require most people to obtain insurance and would subsidize premiums for poor and middle-income Americans.

The health care bill appeared close to passage in January, before Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts special election to fill the seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy, which cost the Democrats a fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Since then, the White House and Democrats have tried to rescue the effort. Besides Republican opposition, Democrats still are face resistance in their own party from anti-abortion lawmakers worried about how and whether insurance plans should pay for abortions. The bill needs 216 votes to clear the House.

Axelrod was on ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," and CNN's "State of the Union." Gibbs appeared on "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation." Clyburn was on NBC and Boehner on CNN.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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