Obama drums up health care votes, says history near

President Barack Obama said Friday Democrats were poised to make history after a century struggling for health care reform, as party leaders claimed momentum ahead of a vital weekend vote.

Obama will intensify his vote-whipping operation on Capitol Hill on Saturday, meeting House of Representatives Democrats, a day before they are expected to vote on the most sweeping social reform bill in decades.

After months of setbacks, bitter partisanship and legislative logjams, Obama appeared triumphant Friday, rekindling the spirit of change which 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 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 an historic vote," Obama said, as 8,500 supporters chanted his campaign theme "Yes We Can" in a sports arena in northern Virginia.

The White House said Obama had held 64 meetings or telephone calls with wavering members of Congress on health care reform.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders kept up the pressure on wavering Democrats, 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," said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House.

Pelosi however 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," Pelosi said.

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

But the exact state of the vote count was unclear, as Republicans have been published dueling lists of "no votes."

The American Medical Association, which has in the past been hostile to some aspects of health reform, and the AARP, a lobby group for retired people, also endorsed the legislation.

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

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

Obama is due to meet Democratic lawmakers in the ornate Cannon House caucus room at 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Saturday. It will also include Senate Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid, a White House aide said.

Reid's presence could be intended to assure House members that the Senate will do its part by endorsing changes to the original legislation that many House members find unpalatable.

Republicans have mounted a fierce campaign of obstruction designed to stop the bill, which they say would hike taxes and amounts to a massive 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 would amount to the most significant social reform legislation in 40 years, and is seen as crucial to establishing Obama's political authority, and to defining his eventual presidential legacy.

It would bring the country closer than ever before -- 95 percent of the population -- to universal health coverage.

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

Obama was in fiery mood Friday, warning failure to pass the bill at the 11th hour would reward insurance firms that had "run amok" at the expense of ordinary Americans.

"Do not quit, do not give up, we keep on going, we are going to get this done, we are going to make history, we are going to fix health care in America!" he declared.

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.

Source: AFP

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