WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders worked furiously Thursday to secure the final votes for weekend approval of a sweeping health care overhaul as President Barack Obama threw his weight behind the lobbying effort and Republicans dug in against the health plan.
Democratic vote counters, working as thousands of conservative protesters chanted "Kill the Bill" outside the Capitol and later swarmed through congressional office buildings, said they did not yet have the necessary 218 confirmed supporters. But they said they were confident they would exceed that total in time for a landmark vote set for Saturday on the $1.1 trillion, 10-year-health plan.
Readying for the first floor test of the legislation, top Democrats appealed to undecided lawmakers while trying to quell resistance from Hispanic House members worried the measure was too punitive regarding illegal immigrants and antiabortion lawmakers who fear that public money could be funneled toward abortions.
Obama made a surprise public appearance at the White House to tout endorsements for the House measure from the American Medical Association and AARP, the senior advocacy group.
He noted that the endorsements covered viewpoints from two sides of the debate: older Americans fearful that a health care overhaul could cut into Medicare and the nation's doctors and medical professionals.
"We are closer to passing this reform than ever before," he told reporters. "And now that the doctors and medical professionals of America are standing with us, now that the organizations charged with looking out for the interests of seniors are standing with us, we are even closer."
While Democrats sought to build support, Republicans engaged in an equally determined effort to block the measure, with House Republicans lining up to address thousands of conservatives gathered at the West Front of the Capitol. No House Republican is expected to vote for the measure, meaning its entire support must come from within the 258-member Democratic caucus.
At the rally, initiated by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., those attending were encouraged to press their lawmakers to vote against the bill. After the rally, the Capitol Police arrested a dozen protesters for causing a disturbance near House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's offices.
Some Democrats from more-conservative districts, such as Reps. Ike Skelton of Missouri, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Jim Marshall of Georgia and Bobby Bright of Alabama, made it clear they would oppose the measure.