WASHINGTON — Democrats on Monday began their climactic push to move health care legislation through the House by the end of the week, as President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior leaders stepped up their efforts to win over the last wavering lawmakers needed for passage.
Obama took the case for action to suburban Cleveland, where he held his third campaign-style health care rally in eight days even as he continued his private effort to press House Democrats to support the legislation.
At a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, Pelosi of California urged her Democratic colleagues to get behind the sweeping health care overhaul.
With the end of a yearlong struggle in sight, consumer groups, labor unions, industry associations and business groups intensified pressure on Democratic lawmakers who remain on the fence. Many are facing a barrage of TV advertising in their districts, including a $10 million campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading critic of the bill.
Meanwhile, the liberal grass roots group MoveOn.org, which once targeted centrist Democrats who backed compromise legislation, is now asking members for contributions to support primary challenges to Democrats who vote against the health care bill.
Democratic leaders acknowledge that they don't yet have the votes to move the president's top domestic priority forward.
Republican lawmakers remain steadfastly opposed to the legislation, which they have pledged to try to block first in the House and later in the Senate. As a result, Democrats are seeking to have the House approve the Senate-passed bill — avoiding the need to return the measure to the Senate.
To address House Democrats' concerns, they plan to push through a package of changes in the Senate blueprint using a process known as budget reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes normally necessary to squash a filibuster.
Pelosi effectively started the clock ticking Monday afternoon, as the House Budget Committee took the first of several procedural steps that will be necessary to send legislation to the president's desk before Easter.
On Wednesday, the House Rules Committee is expected to take a more consequential step by wrapping together the Senate bill and the package of changes.
Democratic leaders are still working on the package, the details of which will likely determine whether Pelosi and her lieutenants will be able to secure the 216 votes they need.