House May Vote On Health Care Overhaul This Week

After months of wrangling, lawmakers in the House are expected to bring a final version of health care overhaul to the floor this week. The expectation is that the bill will be approved soon. Republicans have promised to make passage as difficult as possible.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

Steve Inskeep won't be with us for a while. He's on a reporting trip to Pakistan. But this next couple of weeks, we will have Linda Wertheimer with us.

Welcome Linda.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Thanks very much. This is going to be an interesting week. After a year of debate and decision-making, after months of wrangling, the House of Representatives is bringing a final version of health-care reform to the floor this week. House Democrats are still working to pull together enough votes, though many observers expect the bill to pass later on.

To assess its prospects, we're joined this morning, as we are most Mondays, by NPR's Cokie Roberts.

Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Linda. It's a week like you and I have seen many of on the Hill.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: And it finally, finally - it becomes soup. We've talked lots of Monday mornings about this. Is there any reason to believe that this is the time that the bill is more likely to be on its way, now, than at any other time?

ROBERTS: Yes. Now, they still dont have the votes, and that is the difficulty as they go into this week - for the Democrats in the House of Representatives. But they are really ready to push it through. They're ready to do pretty much whatever it takes to push it through, to skew the rules of the House of Representatives to make it work for them.

And, of course, as you well know, in the House you can write rules that work for the majority party, and use this tool called reconciliation that we've talked so much about, to get it through the Senate with just a majority vote instead of a super majority vote. And I just think the Democrats have just made the decision that this is the time has come, theyve got to do it, and they would just simply do whatever it takes.

WERTHEIMER: But up until now, theyve been reluctant to do whatever it takes. Theyve been afraid of voter retribution.

ROBERTS: Well, I just think that theyve decided that thats going to happen anyway, that the Republicans are going to use the process arguments against them - say they used strong-arm tactics, that they did it in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, you know, a bill that nobody knew that had all kinds of special provisions in it, and that the Democrats are corrupt. Thats now an argument the Republicans have, particularly given the tickle fights of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: ...former congressman now, Massa.

And I just think that the Democrats have made the calculation that they can't do anything about that, that they are going to have that whole set of arguments to confront as they go into November, and that they might as well have the policy on their side - that they think in the long run, the voters are going to like whats in this bill, and that if they can't win on process, they can win on substance, and win on policy.

WERTHEIMER: But on policy, there are still some issues to iron out, aren't there? Especially one particularly contentious one: abortion. Could that still be a bill killer?

ROBERTS: Yes, it could, and they have not quite figured that one out yet. There are those, including the Conference of Catholic Bishops, who say that the bill, as approved by the Senate, is too lenient on abortion language because people could pay into health cooperatives that are subsidized by taxpayer money, and that those could end up providing abortions.

Over the weekend, the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals - nonprofit hospitals that serve millions and millions of people -came out in support of the bill, saying that there already are things like extended health care called COBRA, or health care under the trade adjustment assistant - that is subsidized by taxpayers. Or tax credits for health care in certain circumstances, where some providers do provide abortion, and that this is really not different from that, and that the anti-abortion language is very strong.

There's some sense that the staff inside the Catholic Conference of Bishops might be more anti this bill than the bishops themselves.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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