2009-11-06

Obama, House Dems Press for Health Care Votes

President Barack Obama and House Democrats scrambled on Thursday to secure the votes to pass a historic health care overhaul initiative, working to ease disagreements with rank-and-file lawmakers over abortion and illegal immigrants.

Obama met at the White House with several Hispanic lawmakers who oppose any prohibition on the ability of illegal immigrants to use their own money to purchase health coverage in a new government-run marketplace.

"He listened to us. We listened to him," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "We made it very clear that 20 votes in the Hispanic caucus" depend on the language in the House bill. Currently, there is no prohibition in the House bill against illegal immigrants buying insurance in the exchange, but the White House backs such a ban and one exists in the Senate bill.

"I think that he got our message," Velazquez said.

House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said later that she did not believe there would be any change to the House bill on immigration.

The second-ranking Democrat in the House said lawmakers would debate and vote Saturday on the $1.2-trillion, 10-year measure that expands coverage to millions of uninsured. In a major boost, the American Medical Association and the powerful seniors' lobby AARP both threw their weight behind the bill. AARP, with its 40 million members, promised to run ads and contact activists to gin up support.

Obama planned a rare visit to the House to persuade wavering Democrats. It had been set for Friday morning but after the fatal shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, the White House rescheduled it until Saturday.

Democratic opponents of abortion — under pressure from Catholic bishops — want stronger provisions written in the bill that no federal funds would be used to finance abortion in coverage bought in the government-run exchange.

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