WASHINGTON – The House's chief Democratic headcounter said Sunday he hadn't rounded up enough votes to pass President Barack Obama's health care overhaul heading into a make-or-break week, even as the White House's top political adviser said he was "absolutely confident" in its prospects.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted House passage this week, before Congress takes a two-week break and Obama travels to Asia, a trip he postponed to push for the bill.
"This is the week where we will have this important vote," Gibbs said. "I do think this is the climactic week for health care reform."
Political strategist David Axelrod said Democrats will persuade enough lawmakers to vote "yes." The House GOP leader, Ohio Rep. John Boehner, took up the challenge, acknowledging Republicans alone can't stop the measure, but pledging to do "everything we can to make it difficult for them, if not impossible, to pass the bill." Republicans believe they may get help from Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns.
Axelrod said it will be a struggle, taking aim at insurance industry lobbyists who "have landed on Capitol Hill like locusts" and Republicans who see being on the losing side of the vote as a political victory.
"I am absolutely confident that we are going to be successful. I believe that there is a sense of urgency on the part of members of Congress," given recent news about insurance plan rate increases, Axelrod said.
A dose of reality came from Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat and main vote counter. "No, we don't have them as of this morning, but we've been working this thing all weekend," said Clyburn, D-S.C.
Clyburn said he was confident the measure would pass, echoing comments from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Saturday.
Trying to increase public pressure on Congress, Obama planned to travel on Monday to Cleveland to visit a cancer patient, Natoma Canfield, who wrote the president that she gave up her health insurance premium after it rose to $8,500 a year. Canfield is a self-employed cleaning worker who lives in the suburb of Strongsville, Ohio.
Gibbs said she had to decide between keeping her health insurance or her house and chose to keep her house.
Boehner said Democrats never made a serious attempt to incorporate GOP ideas in the measure, saying they took only "a couple of Republican bread crumbs and put them on top of their 2,700-page bill."
The legislation would provide health insurance to tens of millions who currently have none and would ban insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions. It would require most people to obtain insurance and would subsidize premiums for poor and middle-income Americans.
The health care bill appeared close to passage in January, before Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts special election to fill the seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy, which cost the Democrats a fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Since then, the White House and Democrats have tried to rescue the effort. Besides Republican opposition, Democrats still are face resistance in their own party from anti-abortion lawmakers worried about how and whether insurance plans should pay for abortions. The bill needs 216 votes to clear the House.
Axelrod was on ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," and CNN's "State of the Union." Gibbs appeared on "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation." Clyburn was on NBC and Boehner on CNN.
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