President Barack Obama's Democrats, a key cost estimate in hand, set the stage Thursday for a cliffhanger vote Sunday on his historic plan to extend healthcare coverage to some 32 million Americans.
The president's Republican foes in Congress, meanwhile, made a show of united opposition to the legislation, Obama's top domestic goal, and vowed to make every effort to derail what they called a costly and dangerous proposal.
Democrats brandished fresh figures from the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) showing the bill would deflate the swollen U.S. budget deficit by 130 billion dollars to 2019 and 1.2 trillion dollars the following 10 years.
The CBO said the plan would cost 940 billion dollars over 10 years, roughly at Obama's self-imposed trillion-dollar price tag, and would extend the solvency of the hugely popular government-run Medicare program for the elderly.
Democrats, who had awaited the CBO score to formally unveil the package, said they planned to keep their promise to post it on the Internet for 72 hours before a make-or-break vote in the House of Representatives.
"Under the 72-hour rule, that would mean Sunday would be the earliest vote, and that would be what our target day is, yes," Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen, a close ally of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told AFP.
Asked whether Obama should postpone his planned early Sunday departure for Asia until after the vote, Van Hollen replied: "I think he will be here."
Congressional Republicans staged a show of unity against what they describe as costly and dangerous government intervention in U.S. healthcare, marching into the House chamber for a closed-door strategy session.
"We're going to continue to work closely together to do everything that we can do to make sure that this bill never, ever, ever passes," said Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner.
The United States is the world's richest nation but the only industrialized democracy that does not ensure that all of its citizens have healthcare coverage, with an estimated 36 million Americans uninsured.
Obama predicted late Wednesday that his plan, which the CBO estimated would extend coverage to 32 million Americans who currently lack it, would get the 216 votes it needs to clear the House of Representatives.
"I'm confident it will pass. And the reason I'm confident that it's going to pass is because it's the right thing to do," the president told Fox News anchor Bret Baier in a sometimes contentious interview.
The Senate and House of Representatives passed rival versions of the legislation last year, and top Democrats now seek a way to get the House to approve the Senate bill with changes and send a final bill to Obama's desk.
Democrats may not have the votes needed for a straight up-or-down House ballot on approving the Senate's version before moving to fix the bill with a separate measure to make it more to the lower chamber's liking.
That could lead them to use parliamentary tactics little-known outside Washington — but relatively common in the U.S. Congress — to muscle the bill to passage, skirting a direct vote and instead deeming the measure passed when lawmakers vote to approve a package of changes.
"They are going to continue to ram, ram, ram this bill through the Congress. Every kind of scheme known to man to try and get it through the Congress without a vote," said Boehner.
The Senate, where Republicans have vowed to prevent an up-or-down vote, are expected to approve changes to the legislation via a procedure known as "reconciliation," that requires a simple majority and blunts Senate Republicans' ability to kill the bill with delaying tactics.
© AFP 2013