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With Health Bill Unveiled, House Digs For Votes

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With Health Bill Unveiled, House Digs For Votes

With Health Bill Unveiled, House Digs For Votes

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

After days of closed-door meetings, Democrats unveiled what they hope will be the final version of their health care overhaul. They had been waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill. When that report came in today, Democrats cheered the better-than-expected savings.

With his top domestic priority in the balance, President Obama postponed an overseas trip that has already been pushed back once. As NPR's Julie Rovner reports, the stage is now set for a showdown vote on Sunday.

JULIE ROVNER: With much of the capitol's denizens gripped by early spring fever, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs moved the daily briefing outside to the Rose Garden. There he told reporters that President Obama had decided he wouldn't be going to Guam, Indonesia and Australia next week after all.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): The president greatly regrets the delay. Our international alliances are critical to America's security and economic progress, but passage of health insurance reform is of paramount importance, and the president is determined to see this battle through.

ROVNER: Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Democrats were celebrating a preliminary estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. It showed the changes theyve been working on for weeks would actually result in even bigger savings than the health bill passed by the Senate in December. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sounded almost giddy at a midday news conference.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): This bill is the biggest deficit reduction bill than any member of Congress is going to have the opportunity to vote on. $138 billion reduction in the next 10 years. And over the next 20 years, $1.4 trillion reduction in the deficit.

ROVNER: Clearly, leaders are hoping the news from the CBO will help win over those last few votes theyve so far not been able to round up. But just in case not, they brought in some actual constituents.

Ed Morris, for example, owns a fitness center in Franklin, North Carolina. He says over the last several years his health insurance premiums have tripled. He thinks the new bill would help him get less expensive insurance.

Mr. ED MORRIS (Business Owner): So, I'm here as a small business owner to urge my congressman, Congressman Heath Shuler, and really, all the members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to do the right thing.

ROVNER: So far, Shuler, a conservative Democrat, has been in the no column on the bill. So, for the matter, have been all the Republicans in both the House and Senate. To listen to House Minority Leader John Boehner this morning, that doesn't seem to be about to change.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): Republicans in the House and Senate have worked closely together over the last year, and we're going to continue to work closer together and to do everything that we can do to make sure that this bill never, ever, ever passes.

ROVNER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but conceded that she doesn't yet have the 216 votes she needs. In part, she said, she blames Republican scare tactics. But it doesn't help that the House actually has to pass two separate bills to get the overhaul through. One is the bill the Senate passed in December. Then there's the new bill, the so-called Budget Reconciliation Bill, which will make the changes House Democrats want. For example...

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; House Speaker): We did not believe that the Senate bill had enough on affordability. So there's more affordability for the middle class in the reconciliation package that well pass.

ROVNER: In other words, there are larger subsidies for people with middle incomes wholl be required to purchase insurance. House Democrats also didn't like the Senates excise tax on generous insurance plans, the so-called Cadillac tax. That's been scaled back, too.

Rep. PELOSI: So, the higher end of that is less in the plan. I call it the platinum Rolls Royce piece of it.

ROVNER: For people on Medicare, there will be more help with prescription drug costs, closing the so-called donut hole gap in current drug insurance plans. But the bill would extend the Medicare tax to unearned income for those earning more than $200,000 a year. Assuming the House does pass the bills on Sunday, the second measure still must go to the Senate. Lawmakers there plan to spend next week debating it.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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