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'We've got the votes': House Democratic leaders say healthcare bill will pass

Lawmakers will convene at an afternoon session to tussle over the legislation, which Democrats call historic and necessary. Republicans say the bill is too pricey and gives the government too much power.

March 21, 2010|By Mark Silva and Janet Hook

Reporting from Los Angeles and Washington — As the House prepares to convene Sunday afternoon for action on President Obama's long-pursued overhaul of healthcare, the House's Democratic leadership is voicing confidence in passage of the bill.

"We've got the votes," Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said in an appearance Sunday morning on CNN's "State of the Union."

The House plans to convene at 1 p.m. Eastern time to take up a "reconciliation" measure that merges the House and Senate on healthcare and vote on a Senate-passed healthcare bill. House leaders need 216 votes for passage.

"This is a historic day, and we are happy warriors," Larson said. "We will be a part of history, joining Franklin Delano Roosevelt's passage of Social Security, Lyndon Johnson's passage of Medicare and now Barack Obama's passage of healthcare."

On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also was confident: "We're going to get those 216 votes, because we believe that [lawmakers] understand that Americans want healthcare reform. . . . There are still some members making up their minds, but we believe we're going to have 216 votes. We're going to pass the bill."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), appearing alongside Hoyer on "Meet the Press," had another opinion: "They don't have the votes yet.

"I think, if the American people stay engaged in this fight for the next few hours, this fight is not lost yet," Boehner said. "But first we have to stop this bill, which will ruin our economy, ruin our healthcare system."

Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican appearing on "State of the Union," said: "I don't know if they have the votes. We are going to use every means at our disposal to oppose this government takeover of healthcare."

Republicans, for their part, say the long-running political play known as healthcare reform will not end on Capitol Hill.

Pence voiced a Republican stance that Democrats will pay for passage of the $940-billion healthcare bill in the midterm elections. "I guarantee you, the American people know they have the votes in November."

For weeks, Democratic leaders have been cajoling, arguing with and reassuring their own members that the current healthcare plan is viable on policy and political levels, though the final version is far different from what the House passed last year -- and even more different from what many liberals in the House originally wanted.

Obama, who postponed a trip to Asia to deal with any last-minute problems, gave more than 50 speeches around the country to push for healthcare changes that he said were more than 100 years overdue and were badly needed now.

"Don't do it for me. Don't do it for the Democratic Party. Do it for the American people. They're the ones looking for action right now," Obama told Democrats on Saturday afternoon.

House Democrats expect to hold three votes Sunday. The first is to accept the formal rule that describes the time and terms of debate. That will be followed by an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill and then by the package of amendments, House leaders say.

If passed, the Senate bill would go to Obama for his signature, and the amendments would go to the Senate, where Democratic leaders say they have the 51 votes needed for passage. If the Senate passes the amendments, they too go to Obama for his signature to become law.

In the policy debate, Republicans likely will stress their core arguments: that the bill is too expensive and broadens government powers too much. They will argue that the majority Democrats have rammed the bill through, avoiding GOP policy suggestions.

Democrats accuse the Republicans of refusing to negotiate on the bills to hand Obama a major political defeat. Democrats also say they have incorporated some Republican suggestions into the final legislation.

Under the legislation, most Americans for the first time would be required to purchase insurance, and they would face penalties if they refused. The bill includes billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to make insurance more affordable, and it also provides for an expansion of Medicaid, the government healthcare program for the poor.

The healthcare legislation would extend coverage to about 32-million uninsured Americans and would impose new rules on insurance companies to prevent them from denying benefits because of preexisting conditions. It would establish insurance exchanges to increase competition among insurance companies.

The healthcare plan would cost $940 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It calls for new taxes and fees as well as cuts in Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly.

Democrats argue the cuts would eliminate waste, fraud and abuse, while Republicans charge that the cuts would decrease services for the aged.

noam.levey@latimes.com

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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