Democrats Say They've Got The Magic 216

That's the number of votes House Democrats need to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system. Lawmakers are expected to vote Sunday, and with all 178 House Republicans and at least two dozen Democrats vowing to vote no, the vote will be extremely close. NPR White House Correspondent Scott Horsley joins host Liane Hansen live to talk about Obama's efforts to push the health care overhaul legislation through the House of Representatives.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Two hundred and sixteen: that's the number of votes House Democrats need to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system. Lawmakers are expected to vote later today, and with all 178 House Republicans and at least two dozen Democrats vowing to vote no, the vote will be extremely close.

President Obama traveled to Capitol Hill yesterday to urge House Democrats to vote yes on what he called the most important bill since Medicare.

President BARACK OBAMA: Don't do it for me, don't do it for the Democratic Party, do it for the American people. Theyre the ones who are looking for action right now.

(Soundbite of applause)

HANSEN: Joining us is NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: So, lay out the president's message for House Democrats.

HORSLEY: Well, it's a two-pronged message, reflecting in a way the two sides of the Obama presidency. One side, which you just heard, comes from Obama the idealist. I dont know how this plays politically but vote for this bill because it's right. The other message is from Obama the pragmatic politician, and you heard that yesterday, as well. He's telling Democrats, look, you're going to get attacked from Republicans anyway. Let's at least pass this bill and give voters a chance to see what it'll do for them.

Pres. OBAMA: I know this is a tough vote. And I am actually confident - I've talked to some of you individually - that it will end up being the smart thing to do politically. 'Cause I believe that good policy is good politics.

(Soundbite of applause)

HANSEN: Scott, as the president mentioned, he's been meeting individually with some House Democrats, trying to win them over, and it appears that these one-on-one sessions have brought more yes votes, is that right?

HORSLEY: Yeah. For a guy who took heat last year for being too hands-off in the health care debate, Mr. Obama has been very hands-on in the last few weeks. He's met and made phone calls to dozens of lawmakers. He took Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich along to Ohio on Air Force One last week so he could do a little arm twisting at 30,000 feet. A couple days later, Congressman Kucinich came out and said he would vote yes on the bill.

There's also talk to the president might use an executive order to woo some anti-abortion lawmakers. That order would reiterate longstanding policy that federal funds can't be used to pay for abortion. And as lawmakers have begun to commit to voting for this bill this week, the White House and the Democratic Party have really been trying to build a sense of momentum. Every yes vote is trumpeted with a press release. They're trying to show that there's some inevitability here because President Obama has staked so much on this one measure.

HANSEN: And, Scott, could you briefly tell us, how important is the success on health care to the rest of the president's agenda?

HORSLEY: Well, I think it's a little late in the game to say that the win here will set the stage for other initiatives like financial reform or climate legislation. But if he succeeds in getting a yes vote today, Mr. Obama will have shown both his supporters and his opponents that he's really willing to go to the mat for the things he really cares about.

HANSEN: NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

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