Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Obama pushing on health care end game

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is making his closing arguments for a health care overhaul, pushing a new anti-fraud plan as he cranks up the pressure on skittish Democratic lawmakers to act fast.

Obama is to speak Wednesday at St. Charles High School, his second health care address in three days. His speech comes as congressional Democrats stand on the brink of delivering the president a dramatic success with passage of his sweeping overhaul legislation - or a colossal failure if they can't get it done.

Business groups that oppose the legislation are also stepping it up, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announcing a coordinated campaign to spend as much as $10 million on ads, starting Wednesday, saying, "Stop this health care bill we can't afford."

Leaders in the House and Senate are waiting for a final cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office in the next day or so that will allow them to start counting votes - and twisting arms - in earnest. In the House, in particular, getting the needed majority will be touch and go.

The two-step approach now being pursued calls for the House to approve a Senate-passed bill from last year, despite House Democrats' opposition to several of its provisions. Both chambers then would follow by approving a companion measure to make changes in that first bill.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has said he expects the House to act by March 18, the day Obama leaves for an overseas trip. That timetable would be tough to meet, and congressional leaders told White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that they don't need deadlines handed down from the White House, according to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"He was certainly informed that we don't feel that we want any deadline assigned to us," Waxman said.

Republicans are playing on House Democrats' suspicions of their Senate colleagues, arguing that Senate Democrats may not hold up their end of the bargain and the votes will be damaging politically for Democrats in November.

"They will be voting, when they pass the Senate bill, to endorse the Cornhusker kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, the Gator-aid, the closed-door deal," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, citing controversial elements of the Senate bill.

An Associated Press-GfK Poll released Tuesday found a widespread hunger for improvements to the health care system, but also found that Americans don't like the way the debate is playing out in Washington.

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