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Obama Demands Up-or-Down Vote on Health Care Overhaul Bill

By Alex Wayne, CQ Staff

March 3, 2010 -- Flanked by doctors and nurses, President Obama demanded Wednesday that Congress send him health overhaul legislation on an up-or-down vote — a tacit endorsement of Democratic leaders' plan to use budget reconciliation procedures to finish the legislation.

Noting that both chambers had already passed health care bills (HR 3590 in the Senate, HR 3962 in the House), Obama said that a final bill, modeled on a proposal he released last week, "deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children's Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed and both Bush tax cuts — all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority."

While the president never used the word "reconciliation," all of the initiatives he mentioned were passed by a GOP-controlled Senate using the expedited parliamentary procedure that blocks the minority party's ability to stage a filibuster.

Obama said he had asked congressional Democratic leaders to schedule votes on a final bill "in the next few weeks." And he appealed to wavering Democrats worried that another vote on health care could end their political careers, as well as to Senate Republicans determined to stop the legislation at all costs.

"From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform," Obama said. "And I urge every American who wants this reform to make their voice heard as well — every family, every business owner, every patient, every doctor, every nurse."

Moments after he spoke, the White House announced that the president would travel to Pennsylvania and Missouri next week to talk about the health legislation.

After weathering months of criticism that he had not done enough to shape health care legislation, the president has now offered a timeline, specific proposals and talking points. And he left no doubt that he planned to bring pressure on wavering members of his own party.

"At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem," he said. "The American people want to know if it's still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future."

While completing a health care overhaul is expected to be a heavy lift in both houses, there were some signs lawmakers might be closing ranks. On the Senate floor immediately after his remarks, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., echoed the theme that passing a final bill through a simple majority vote was "the right thing to do."

Earlier in the day, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said that Democrats were "coming to closure" on revised language being written jointly by House and Senate lawmakers and White House officials.

Obama on Feb. 22 had outlined what he wants to see in a health care compromise, posting a summary on the White House's Web site. On Tuesday, he indicated a willingness to incorporate four Republican proposals that were outlined at a White House health care summit on Feb. 25.

Obama's plan would cost about $950 billion over 10 years — more than the Senate bill, less than the House bill and more than Obama's own target of $900 billion.

White House officials say the president's proposal would extend coverage to more than 31 million uninsured Americans and reduce the federal budget deficit by about $100 billion in its first 10 years and by about $1 trillion in its second decade.

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