Historic health care bill poised to pass

WASHINGTON — With Democrats increasingly confident they have enough support, the House of Representatives planned for a historic vote Sunday that would enact the most dramatic changes in the nation’s health-care system in decades.

President Barack Obama scheduled a last-minute push for the overhaul, setting a meeting with the House’s 253 Democrats for Saturday afternoon. Behind closed doors, House leaders worked to round up the last undecided votes to reach the 216 needed for passage.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was confident about today’s prospects, saying flatly, “We will pass the bill.”

The mood at the Capitol was unusually calm, but not without last-minute drama.

With tea party demonstrators rallying outside to protest the legislation, the House Rules Committee dropped a controversial plan that would have “deemed” Senate-approved health-care legislation passed as part of a resolution setting rules of debate. The maneuver had been seen as a way to allow Democrats to avoid voting on the bill.

Now, however, the House will vote directly on the legislation the Senate approved Dec. 24, then later on a bill to change some provisions of that legislation. The decision suggested House Democrats were confident of the votes for passage.

Still, Pelosi and others continued to meet with a handful of anti-abortion Democrats who’d refused to support the bill. Several alternatives were proposed, including an executive order reiterating federal policy toward abortion would not change, or a separate vote to toughen abortion restrictions.

A separate vote on abortion language will not happen Sunday, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., a leader of the abortion rights forces, said.

The legislation would require most employers and consumers to obtain coverage by 2014 or face penalties.

Families earning up to $88,000 a year would be eligible for help paying premiums. Consumers would be able to use new exchanges, or marketplaces, to easily shop for coverage.

Senate Republicans have vowed to fight the likely House changes, but the Democratic strategy forbids a filibuster and only 51 Senate votes are needed to enact it into law. Democrats control 59 seats in the Senate.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the plan would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over 10 years. It includes a series of tax increases, including higher Medicare payroll taxes on the wealthy and a new tax on dividend, interest and other unearned income.

The House considered its own version of health-care legislation in November, and 219 Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana, backed the bill. Cao has said he’s opposed this time, and at least two Democrats who voted “yes,” representatives Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., and Michael Arcuri, D-N.Y., are expected to switch to “no.”

At least five Democrats who voted “no” have said they will vote “yes,” but the margin for passage remains perilously thin — depending on anti-abortion Democrats who voted “yes” in November to remain committed to passage.

Democrats were hopeful anti-abortion Democrats could be swayed to stay with their November votes.

“We’re hopeful a deal can be worked out,” said Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., an anti-abortion Democrat who plans to vote for the measure.

House Democratic leaders Saturday urged skittish colleagues to consider the bill not only as a health-care measure, but legislation that would help create jobs, boost the economy, reduce deficits and help the Obama presidency thrive.