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Pelosi vows to rein in Democrats on healthcare

The speaker, who has struggled to contain bickering House Democrats, is determined to push a bill through.

July 27, 2009|Washington Post

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) vowed Sunday to overcome lingering obstacles and pass healthcare reform in the House, restoring momentum to President Obama's top domestic priority and order to her own unruly Democratic caucus.

"When I take this bill to the floor, it will win," Pelosi said on CNN's "State of the Union." "This will happen."

The speaker, who has struggled to overcome a series of recent setbacks, raised the stakes by planning to restart talks today among bickering Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, one of three House panels with jurisdiction over healthcare and where the bill stalled last week. Democratic leaders are newly confident that the differences can be resolved, possibly in time to bring a House bill to the floor before lawmakers depart Friday for the August recess, although Pelosi did not commit to a timetable.

The chaos underscores the difficulty of transforming a major sector of the U.S. economy in a single piece of legislation, and the perils of rushing Obama's first-term priorities through Congress before concerns about the 2010 midterm elections take hold.

"What we don't want is for the process to bog down here," said senior White House advisor David Axelrod, also on CNN's "State of the Union." "We want to keep moving forward, and I believe we will."

Although the Senate will not vote on its plan until after Labor Day, a Senate Finance Committee deal this week would reassure several dozen anxious House Democrats who are wary of the more liberal course their leaders have taken on healthcare. Feeling burned by a tough vote on climate change legislation that is languishing in the Senate, these House Democrats sparked an uprising last week that Pelosi is struggling to contain.

A healthcare victory in the House this week would be a stirring moment for Obama and allow more breathing room for the Senate, where finance negotiators are trying to write a bipartisan bill that must be melded with a separate health committee version. A defeat would be a devastating setback for Obama and Pelosi. Regardless of the outcome, rank-and-file Democrats are bracing for an intense August at home as their constituents are hit with a wave of advertising from business groups opposed to the legislation and liberal interest groups supporting it.

"I think the people are shellshocked," said Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.), citing the $700-billion financial bailout, the $787-billion economic recovery package, climate change legislation and other major bills. "So much is happening so quickly that what is happening is people are blending it all together."

The House and Senate are working on proposals that would expand coverage to up to 50 million people over the next 10 years, at a cost of about $1 trillion.

Obama has insisted that the legislation be deficit-neutral and that it begin to "bend the curve" of skyrocketing healthcare costs.

To that end, Congress is seeking to cut up to $500 billion out of Medicare and Medicaid, while improving their efficiency. The remainder would be covered by tax increases.

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