WASHINGTON — Thousands of liberal public-option backers and conservative tea partiers launched last-chance campaigns Tuesday in the nation's capital to persuade Congress to pass — or reject — sweeping health care legislation.
Democratic congressional leaders conceded that they may not have the votes for final passage of the overhaul by March 26, when Congress is to break for spring recess. They're trying to persuade party moderates and abortion foes to go along. President Barack Obama wants final votes even earlier, before his March 18 departure on an overseas trip. That appears unlikely.
Republicans launched an all-out effort to derail the bill, urging congressional candidates to hold town hall meetings, organize voters over the Internet and denounce any special deals that may be cut to grease Democrats' votes.
Major business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and health insurers, will spend as much as $10 million on TV ads claiming that Obama's plan will only worsen the bad economy. Separately, the health insurance industry lobby America's Health Insurance Plans launched a $1 million-plus ad campaign to push back against Obama.
In the pro-legislation camp, thousands of supporters of Obama's plan — many organized by unions and some dressed in hospital gowns — protested outside a Washington hotel where a meeting was being held by America's Health Insurance Plans.
At an earlier rally nearby, Howard Dean, the physician, former Vermont governor and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, said the question for wavering Democrats is: "Are you for the insurance companies or the American people?"