WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama warned wavering lawmakers Wednesday of a political price to pay for opposing his historic health care bill ahead of what was likely to be a razor's edge weekend vote.
Obama, facing resistance to the unpopular legislation from swing-district Democrats worried about November mid-term elections, said Americans angry with the way things are expected action from their representatives in Washington.
"If they vote against it, then they're going to be voting against health care reform and they're going to be voting in favor of the status quo," Obama told Fox News anchor Bret Baier in an interview.
The president also defended a controversial healthcare provision that opponents say is intended to buy the vote of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La..
The so-called "Louisiana purchase" would give extra Medicaid funding to any state in which every county has been declared a disaster area. But until recently, only Louisiana would qualify due to Hurricane Katrina. Hawaii now may also qualify due to the recent earthquake.
But Obama said today that while the provision has been called a "special deal," it's simply the right thing to do.
"That provision, which I think should remain in, said that if a state has been affected by a natural catastrophe, that has created a special health care emergency in that state, they should get help," Obama told Fox News's Bret Baier in an interview that will air tonight.
"Louisiana, obviously, went through Katrina, and they're still trying to deal with the enormous challenges that were faced because of that…that's not just a Louisiana provision. That is a provision that affects every state that is going through a natural catastrophe."
The president, who has made remaking US health care his top domestic goal, also saw his courtship of lawmakers pay off as a liberal Democrat long wedded to opposing the bill had a change of heart and pledged to support it.
Representative Dennis Kucinich vowed to keep fighting for his dream of a nationalized health system but resolved not to help defeat the bill in a fight that could leave Obama's still-young presidency in shambles.
"We have to be very careful that the potential of president Obama's presidency not be destroyed by this debate," Kucinich, who represents a district in Ohio, told reporters.
Obama, who most recently courted Kucinich during a Monday ride to Ohio aboard the presidential Air Force One airplane, called the very liberal lawmaker's change of heart "a good sign" and thanked him by telephone.
The bill aims to extend health coverage to at least 31 million Americans who currently lack it, end abusive insurance company practices, and curb soaring health care costs that run roughly double those of other rich countries.
Kucinich's reversal was a significant symbolic win for the White House as it courted wavering Democrats needed to pass the bill in a make-or-break House of Representative vote that party leaders hope to hold before next week.
Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the vote would come "certainly Saturday or Sunday" but that he would wait for a cost estimate from the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Democrats said they had yet to rally the 216 votes needed to pass the bill, amid united opposition from Republicans eager to deny the president his goal of enacting the most sweeping changes to US health care in four decades.
Kucinich, once opposed to the bill on grounds it is too timid, said "something is better than nothing" and underlined: "If I can vote for this bill, there's not many people who shouldn't be able to."
The United States is the world's richest nation but the only industrialized democracy that does not ensure that all of its citizens have health care coverage, with an estimated 36 million Americans uninsured.
The overhaul got another boost when Catholic nuns, in an unusual public break with the church's bishops, endorsed the Senate bill and said they were satisfied it would not lead to government money going to abortion.
About 60 leaders of orders representing tens of thousands of US Catholic nuns signed a letter backing the bill, which Catholic Bishops have opposed on grounds it would lead to federal abortion funding.
Republicans scheduled a series of public denunciations of the bill on Thursday and continued to condemn Democrats for relying on procedural tactics little-known outside Washington -- but relatively common in the US Congress -- to muscle the bill to passage.
"Frankly, the American people, I think, think that there's a better way," Representative Eric Cantor, the number two House Republican, told ABC television.
The Senate and House of Representatives have passed rival versions of the legislation and top Democrats now seek a way around Republican delaying tactics to get a compromise bill to Obama's desk.
One much-discussed option calls for replacing a direct up-or-down House vote on the Senate bill -- which many House Democrats oppose -- with a maneuver called a "self-executing" rule.
That blueprint calls for the House to vote on a "rule" that declares the Senate measure passed once the House amends it to their liking
The Senate would have to approve any such fixes to send them to Obama in a different procedure, known as "reconciliation," that requires a simple majority and blunts Senate Republicans' ability to kill the bill with delaying tactics.
But Republican senators reportedly planned to use every weapon in their parliamentary arsenal, looking to block approval of some changes of the bill and perhaps delay a final vote with a wave of amendments.
© AFP 2013