By James Rowley
Nov. 5 (Bloomberg) -- House Democratic leaders, undeterred by delays in the Senate or this week’s Republican electoral triumphs, plan to call a vote Saturday on the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. health-care policy in four decades.
The House will move on the $1.05 trillion legislation that would cover 36 million uninsured people and create a government plan to compete with private insurers even after the election of Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia. President Barack Obama will go to Capitol Hill tomorrow to meet with House Democrats, as they seek the 218 votes they need to pass the bill, a Democratic leadership aide said.
Party leaders signaled they’re ready for a debate on the legislation and a vote on its final passage by filing a 42-page amendment that made last-minute changes to the bill. The Nov. 3 filing triggered a 72-hour waiting period that Democrats pledged to give Republicans before a vote.
“It’s going to be close,” House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today, while predicting victory. “This is a huge undertaking; there are legitimate concerns.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected claims that Democrats may have lost momentum on Election Day. “From my perspective, we won,” she said, pointing to Democratic wins in two House races to fill vacancies in California and New York.
Pelosi, of California, said Bill Owens, the Democrat who captured a New York seat held by Republicans, called his election “a victory for health-care reform and other initiatives” of the Democratic-controlled Congress.
Investors bet that the Republican victories in the Nov. 3 gubernatorial races would bolster opposition to the overhaul, sparking a rally yesterday in health-care stocks. Health insurers Aetna Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut, and Cigna Corp. of Philadelphia both jumped 5.2 percent.
Still, Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter said the leaders planned a vote for Nov. 7, taking up the legislation before a recess next week.
The measure, which would require all Americans to get insurance, set up new online purchasing exchanges and provide subsidies to help people buy insurance, represents the biggest changes to U.S. health care since the 1965 creation of the Medicare system for the elderly.
The Senate is still considering its version, and House lawmakers said they weren’t concerned about a possible delay in that chamber until early next year. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid suggested on Nov. 3 that the goal of passing a bill this year may slip.
In the past, some House Democrats voiced reluctance to move forward until the Senate was ready to act.
“That die has been cast” by Pelosi’s decision to start debate this week, said Florida Democrat Allen Boyd, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of self-described fiscally conservative Democrats.
“I knew in August that people were concerned about the bill,” Boyd said. “Whether my feet are cold or hot” about voting without the prospect of quick Senate action “doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of difference,” he said.
House leaders continued to seek votes from undecided Democrats, particularly those concerned that the legislation didn’t provide sufficient protection against government financing of medical care for illegal immigrants or of abortions.
Democratic leaders are seeking to preserve a ban on federal funding of abortion without affecting private insurers, said Representative Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat working to broker a agreement on the issue.
Democrats opposed to abortion, along with many Republicans, are concerned that subsidies to be offered to lower-income Americans on the health-insurance exchanges could be used to obtain abortions.
Compromise language proposed by Indiana Representative Brad Ellsworth to clarify the restrictions will be included in the legislation in the Rules Committee, said Slaughter, the chairman.
North Dakota Democrat Earl Pomeroy and other Democrats also want reassurance that undocumented aliens won’t receive subsidies for insurance. The legislation allows the immigrants to purchase private insurance with their own money on the exchange. It bars them from receiving subsidies or purchasing insurance from the public plan.
No Republican Support
Both the House and Senate plans lack any Republican support. The only Republican to vote for a health-care proposal, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, said she can’t back the measure currently before the Senate because it includes the government insurance program. A number of Senate Democrats have also expressed concern about that so-called public option.
For Pelosi, Republican opposition is an easier hurdle to mount. Her Democratic Party now controls 258 of the 435 seats in the chamber, meaning she can lose some votes and still have the 218 needed for passage.
In the Senate, Reid faces a tougher road to passage because of Senate procedures and opposition to his plan.
Reid needs all 60 votes controlled by the Democratic caucus to even begin debate, and it isn’t certain he has them. He would then need 60 votes again to cut off debate and take a vote, amid controversies over the public option and new taxes to pay for the expanded insurance coverage for Americans.
Now, Reid is waiting for Congressional Budget Office estimates on his proposals and trying to count votes. The nonpartisan agency probably won’t finish its analysis this week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus told reporters.
To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: November 5, 2009 10:12 EST