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David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers , Published November 07 2009

Many Democrats remain unsure about health care reform bill

WASHINGTON – Democrats in the House of Representatives struggled Friday to find enough votes to pass sweeping health care legislation, as lawmakers prepared for an all-day debate and perhaps a final vote on the bill today.

President Barack Obama was scheduled to visit Capitol Hill early today to give the House’s 258 Democrats a pep talk and a push to back the top priority on his 2009 domestic agenda, although White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that Obama’s schedule is subject to change.

Democratic leaders Friday found increasing numbers of their conservative and moderate caucus members – even some liberals – ready to vote “no” for a variety of reasons, including concern about the bill’s abortion and immigration provisions as well as qualms about its economic impact. In addition, the entire House will be up for election next year.

“There are many people who are still trying to get a comfort level that this is the right thing to do,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

A lot of Democrats said they don’t feel comfortable.

“I don’t think there are 218 votes there right now,” said Rep. Artur Davis,

D-Ala., citing the number needed to pass the House. Davis, who’s running for governor in Alabama next year, planned to vote no because of concerns about the bill’s impact on business, and its funding.

If he goes to Capitol Hill today, Obama is expected to reiterate the points in a statement the White House issued Friday giving the measure strong support.

The bill, it said, “meets the president’s criteria for health insurance reform” and “will provide needed insurance reforms for Americans with insurance, expand coverage for those who do not have insurance, lower costs for families and businesses, and begin to reduce the nation’s deficit.”

The bill would create a government-run health insurance plan, or public option, to compete with private insurers. People could keep the coverage they now have, while a health exchange, or marketplace, would be created so consumers could easily shop for policies.

Insurers wouldn’t be able to deny anyone coverage because of pre-existing conditions and couldn’t charge anyone higher premiums solely because of gender.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, under this legislation, by 2019, 96 percent of eligible Americans would have health care coverage, up from the current 83 percent. The CBO estimates the plan’s

10-year cost at $891 billion, financed by tax increases and spending cuts, and that it would reduce the federal budget deficit by $109 billion over 10 years.

House Democratic leaders hope to take an up-or-down vote on the proposal today, but they warn that it could slip to as late

as Tuesday.

Republicans will be allowed to offer an alternative today, but it’s expected to be defeated easily in the Democratic-majority body.

No Republicans are expected to back the Democratic health care plan, and at least 25 Democrats are expected to oppose it.

That means Democratic leaders can’t afford to lose many more.

At least 20 Democrats could walk away from the bill if their concerns about abortion aren’t met. Currently, a 32-year-old law prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or if a woman’s life is in danger.

The House Democratic bill says that no federal money would be used for abortion services unless a pregnancy was the result of a rape, incest or endangered a woman’s life. Only private funds, generated by the patients’ private monthly premium payments, could be used to pay for abortion services under other conditions.

Neither side of the abortion debate is satisfied with that. Abortion rights advocates view the bill as having the potential to make it harder for women to get elective abortions from private insurance plans, while abortion opponents think it will be difficult to keep government money separate.