Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles — The House Rules Committee began its work Saturday morning as Democrats kicked off a weekend of parliamentary maneuvering, lobbying and arm-twisting in the healthcare debate ahead of showdown votes set for Sunday.
President Obama will meet in the afternoon with House Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, about 24 hours before the House is set to begin voting on a healthcare insurance overhaul, the centerpiece of his domestic agenda.
Democrats are close to the 216 votes they need in the House. But part of the battle will also be keeping all of the members in line during a weekend of parliamentary infighting and last-minute pleas.
The first parliamentary battleground is the Rules Committee.
Most legislation that comes to the House floor requires a rule, passed by the Rules Committee, which establishes the technical terms of any debate, such as the time allowed and the number of amendments.
Because the House and Senate passed substantially different versions of healthcare legislation, the fight to reconcile the measures is especially complicated.
It also is politically sensitive because House members do not want to vote for the unpopular Senate bill.
To spare rank-and-file Democrats from having to do that, the Rules Committee on Saturday is expected to pass a rule that incorporates the Senate bill.
This process -- commonly used in prior Congresses -- would "deem" the Senate bill passed.
And when the rule comes to the floor, Democrats would technically cast a procedural vote to pass the Senate bill.
If the rule passes, they would begin debate on a package of changes, unveiled by House Democrats on Thursday, to the Senate bill.
Democrats hope to finish that debate by late afternoon Sunday. If the package passes, it will go to the Senate for consideration.
RepublicanS have complained that Democrats are trying to avoid directly dealing with the Senate bill, which is unpopular in the House and, according to polls, with many Americans. Democrats counter that the vote on the rule, in effect, will indicate how Democrats feel about the Senate measure and that they therefore are not trying to hide from the political fallout.
The Senate is expected to take most of next week to debate the fix-it bill. Democrats are pushing for a vote by the holiday recess at the end of the week.
If the Senate passes its own amendments, that would requires the House to act again before the final version of the fix-it bill goes to Obama for a signature.