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Obama drums up health care votes, says history near

US President Barack Obama girded on Friday for a crucial weekend vote on his sweeping health care overhaul plan, with Democrats poised to make history after a century of struggling for reform.

world Updated: Mar 20, 2010 07:54 IST

US President Barack Obama girded on Friday for a crucial weekend vote on his sweeping health care overhaul plan, with Democrats poised to make history after a century of struggling for reform.

Obama will step up his vote-whipping operation on Capitol Hill Saturday, meeting Democrats in the House of Representatives, a day before a scheduled vote on the most far-reaching social program in decades.

After months of setbacks, bitter partisanship and legislative logjams, Obama appeared triumphant Friday, rekindling the spirit of change that powered his euphoric 2008 election campaign but has been dimmed by the slog of government.

"Right now, we are at the point where we are going to do something historic this weekend," Obama said at a rally in northern Virginia billed as a rousing climax to his plan to offer health care to 32 million uninsured Americans.

"In just a few days, a century-long struggle will culminate in a historic vote," Obama said, as 8,500 supporters chanted his campaign theme "Yes We Can" in a sports arena.

The White House said Obama has held 64 meetings or telephone calls with wavering lawmakers so far on health care reform.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders kept up the pressure on legislators still on the fence, seeking to piece together the magic majority figure of 216 in the vote on the comprehensive health reform package expected on Sunday.

"I'm very excited about the momentum that is developing around the bill," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

But Pelosi stopped short of saying she had the votes in hand to pass the 940-billion-dollar measure after a dramatic week of arm-twisting and head counts.

"When we bring the bill to the floor, we will have a significant victory for the American people," she vowed.

The number two House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, released a statement entitled "momentum grows for health reform" listing the names of once hesitating Democrats who had come out in favor of the measure.

But the exact vote count remained unclear, with Republicans publishing dueling lists of "no votes."

The American Medical Association, which had been hostile to some aspects of health reform, and the AARP, a lobby group for retirees, also endorsed the legislation.

If the House passes the bill on Sunday, Obama would sign it into law.

The Senate is then expected to vote on a House-passed package of fixes to the bill that would amend that law and make it more palatable to House members.

Obama was due to meet Democratic lawmakers in the ornate Cannon House caucus room at 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Saturday, along with Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid's presence could serve to assure House members the Senate will do its part by endorsing changes to the original legislation.

Republicans have mounted a fierce campaign designed to stop the bill, which they say would hike taxes and lead to a government takeover of the mostly private health care industry.

"It's clear that now is the crunch time. It's pretty clear that the vote is pretty tight," said Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner.

The health care bill, which would be the most significant social reform legislation in 40 years, is seen as crucial to establishing Obama's political authority, and to defining his presidential legacy.

It would bring an estimated 95 percent of the population to universal health coverage.

"This legislation provides the necessary health reforms that the administration seeks -- affordable, quality care within reach for the tens of millions of Americans who do not have it today," the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement late Friday.

"It also brings new stability and security for the hundreds of millions who already have insurance by reining in the worst insurance industry abuses and putting in place reforms that increase transparency, improve the quality of care, and contain health care costs."

Democrats are also touting an estimate by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that says the bill could cut 130 billion dollars from the bloated US deficit through 2019 and 1.2 trillion in the subsequent 10 years.

The bill would create new insurance marketplaces starting in 2014 and require most Americans to carry insurance, while offering subsidies to many.

Some of its most popular measures include bans on insurers denying coverage because of pre-existing illnesses, imposing lifetime caps on coverage or dropping people from coverage when they get sick.

First Published: Mar 20, 2010 07:53 IST