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Democrats look to secure House votes for health care reform

WASHINGTON — Democrats turned Friday from the drama of a health care summit to the nitty-gritty task of lining up votes to pass a bill without Republican support, as they sought to salvage the sweeping health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama.

At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama would unveil a "way forward" next week on legislation that has been his foremost domestic priority.

The way ahead doesn't promise to be easy, particularly in the House, where old intraparty quarrels over abortion, illegal immigration, costs and taxes are threatening to break out again.

"There was so much focus on the Senate and their search for 60 votes," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who is president of the Democratic freshman class in the House. "That has ignored the real dynamic in the House where we had to sweat buckets of blood" to pass a bill last year.

There were signs that many rank-and-file Democrats are open to compromises to push the health care legislation across the finish line — perhaps as early as the end of March.

"I don't want to see any one issue derail health care reform," said Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., an antiabortion Democrat who pushed for tough restrictions on federal funding for abortion in the House bill last year.

Leading liberal lawmakers echoed the call for action. And several of the 39 Democrats who voted against the health care legislation in November — including Reps. Frank Kratovil Jr. of Maryland, Allen Boyd of Florida, Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania and Brian Baird of Washington — left open the possibility that they might back the Senate health care bill if combined with a separate legislative package of changes along the lines Obama proposed this week.

"What the president put forward and certainly the Senate bill … are obviously better than the House bill," Altmire said, singling out Obama's proposal to strip out a provision from the Senate bill that provided special assistance to Nebraska at the request of the state's Democratic senator, Ben Nelson.

Altmire, like many lawmakers, said he was looking forward to seeing more details from the president and senior Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Democratic leaders are focused on the House because, having lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, they believe the only realistic chance of getting substantial health care legislation to Obama depends on persuading House Democrats to approve the Senate bill as written.

The House and Senate would both vote on the package of changes sought by House Democrats, but they would do so using a process called budget reconciliation. Under Senate rules, this does not require the 60-vote supermajority needed to quash a filibuster in the Senate.

Speaking to reporters Friday at the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she did not think using reconciliation would be a tough sell, noting that what some describe as a "complicated procedure," is really just a "simple majority."

Democrats look to secure House votes for health care reform 02/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2010 12:04am]
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