House Opts For Straight Vote On Health Bill Democratic House leaders say they've got the votes to pass a landmark health-care overhaul Sunday. And they're confident enough of getting an overhaul done that they've agreed to set aside the controversial "deem and pass" strategy. Host Guy Raz checks in with NPR's Julie Rovner on the latest maneuvering on Capitol Hill.

House Opts For Straight Vote On Health Bill

House Opts For Straight Vote On Health Bill

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Democratic House leaders say they've got the votes to pass a landmark health-care overhaul Sunday. And they're confident enough of getting an overhaul done that they've agreed to set aside the controversial "deem and pass" strategy. Host Guy Raz checks in with NPR's Julie Rovner on the latest maneuvering on Capitol Hill.

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz, reporting this week from NPR West in Southern California.

Democratic leaders say they have the votes to overhaul health care.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): I have the commitment of significant majority in the United States Senate can make that good law even better.

(Soundbite of applause)

RAZ: That's Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid speaking on Capitol Hill today. There will be two House votes now, both expected tomorrow night. One on reconciliation, the so-called fixes to the Senate bill passed in December, and another on the actual Senate bill. More on that in a moment from our correspondent Julie Rovner.

If those two bills do pass in the House, one goes to the president to sign, the other goes to the Senate next week for a final vote. The legislation promises to extend health coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans.

Earlier today, President Obama drove down Pennsylvania Avenue to rally the members on Capitol Hill.

President BARACK OBAMA: We have been debating health care for decades. It has now been debated for a year. It is in your hands. It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow. Thank you very much, House of Representatives. Let's get this done.

(Soundbite of applause)

RAZ: Just steps from the Capitol building, several thousand opponents of Mr. Obama's plan staged their own rally.

(Soundbite of protesters)

Ms. KATHERINE ALLEN(ph): It would be great if we could really afford to provide health care for everybody in this country. But money doesn't grow on trees. And health care is not a right, it's something that you have to work for.

Ms. MARY ELLEN JONES(ph): We're going to have socialized medicine and we are not a socialist country.

RAZ: The voices of protesters Katherine Allen and Mary Ellen Jones on Capitol Hill today. They both oppose health care overhaul. Inside the Capitol on the House floor, several members of Congress made their final arguments ahead of tomorrow night's votes.

Here's Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes.

Representative JIM HIMES (Democrat, Connecticut): We look after our own. But if you're one of the tens of thousands of people diagnosed with breast cancer, coronary disease, leukemia, well, then we're not sure. We might look after you.

RAZ: At times, there were tense exchanges between House members. Texas Republican Joe Barton said most Americans do not want this legislation passed, which sparked this response from Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings.

Representative ALCEE HASTINGS (Democrat, Florida): You don't know what all of the American people think.

Representative JOE BARTON (Republican, Texas): But we do...

Rep. HASTINGS: And you certainly don't know what those in my (unintelligible)...

Rep. BARTON: But we do read the Post, Mr. Hastings.

Rep. HASTINGS: ...of this bill.

Unidentified Woman: Mr. Diaz-Balart, we need to vote.

RAZ: Our coverage this hour begins with NPR's Julie Rovner on Capitol Hill. And, Julie, can you describe the scene inside the Capitol building now.

JULIE ROVNER: Well, you know, it's always a strange time when the House is in on a weekend. Outside, of course, it is a beautiful spring day. There was a marathon this morning. We've, of course, had the Tea Party protest. And inside, there's just all these meetings going on. Democrats trying to make sure that they have the votes. People wanting last-minute favors, wanting to make sure that what they want is in the bill. So there's lots of scurrying about and lots of secrecy and lots of tension filling the air.

RAZ: Now the big news today, Julie, apparently comes from the House Rules Committee. It appears they are not going to use this so-called demon pass maneuver that we've been hearing so much about this week.

ROVNER: That's right. This all has to do with getting the House to pass the bill the Senate passed in December. Now the House really doesn't like the Senate bill, but it has to pass in the form the Senate did, because the Senate no longer has the 60 votes anymore to block a Republican filibuster if the bill had to go back to that chamber.

So the House was going to do that demon pass technique, where the Senate bill would have been part of a bigger rules package and the House would basically have been voting on two things at once. It would have been an indirect vote, if you will. Then they were going to vote on that second bill making changes to the Senate bill that would make it more the House likings that bill does go back to the Senate, but now it only needs 51 votes.

RAZ: So one vote will - if it passes, it's presumed to pass - will go to the president. The other one, when it passes, will go to the Senate.

ROVNER: That's right.

RAZ: So why the change of heart on the way that they're going to vote now?

ROVNER: Well, apparently they got the word from the Senate parliamentarian that it was all right to vote on the Senate bill after they vote on the bill with the changes to the Senate bill. That makes that stand-alone vote much more palatable and easier to get the votes for. And having it - having to vote separate this way takes away a big source of criticism by Republicans who have been all over the Democrats this past week for what they call an abuse of the process.

RAZ: And just to clarify, Julie, my understanding is that once the House passes these two pieces of legislation, the Senate bill that was passed in December will become law for a few days until the Senate passes the House reconciliation bill.

ROVNER: That's right. The Senate bill goes straight to the president because it will have passed both the House and the Senate in the same form. And then the reconciliation bill, with the changes in it, goes to the Senate for passage.

RAZ: Speaking of getting the votes, Julie, anti-abortion Democrats have been a crucial bloc in the House. Where do they stand now?

ROVNER: Indeed they have, and they have been some of the hold-out votes for the Democrats. And at least for now it appears that Democratic leaders have cut off negotiations with the group of anti-abortion lawmakers who want an even stronger abortion restrictions in the bill. It's a group led by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak. He's been saying he has as many as 12 members who won't vote for the bill unless the abortion restrictions that were in the House version of the bill are put back.

But, among other things, it appears this group really isn't that big. Several anti-abortion groups, including the group that represents Catholic hospitals and a group of more than 50,000 nuns, have said they believe the Senate bill, which also has abortion restrictions, really does prohibit federal funding of abortion. That's good enough to have peeled off several pro-life Democrats in the House to say they'll vote for the Senate bill despite the opposition of groups like the National Right to Life Committee and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

And while there are still some discussion going on, perhaps President Obama might issue an executive order to confirm that there'll be no federal funding of abortion in the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will not allow a separate vote on stronger abortion restrictions. That seems to mean she thinks she can afford to lose that handful of votes.

RAZ: So basically the Democrats need 216 votes. It means that about 37 Democrats don't have to support this...

ROVNER: That's correct.

RAZ: ...if my math is right.

ROVNER: That's exactly correct.

RAZ: Okay. So what happens tomorrow, Julie?

ROVNER: Well, it's probably going to be a long day. There won't be a lot of debate on the floor. This bill obviously has been debated a lot over the last six months. But you can still expect House Republicans to do whatever they can to drag things out. I've been warned - one of the staff warned me to maybe bring a cot. They really, really, really don't like this bill. And even if they don't have the votes, they intend to go down fighting.

And then the bill, the second bill at least, as we mentioned, has to go back to the Senate. But that's a problem for next week.

RAZ: That's NPR's Julie Rovner on Capitol Hill. Julie, I can lend you my cot.

ROVNER: Thank you.

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