Obama Urges Democrats To Pass Health Care Bill Democratic leader Harry Reid kept senators in Washington for a rare weekend session. They debated amendments and held votes on the sweeping health care legislation. President Obama went to Capitol Hill Sunday to give a private speech and pep talk to Democrats. Lawmakers are set to begin debating a particularly divisive issue in the bill: abortion.

Obama Urges Democrats To Pass Health Care Bill

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is away. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

We're approaching that time in the holiday season when almost all business slows down and stops. That creates a little bit of urgency for the United States Senate to try to get something done now. Senators worked, over the weekend, on health care, and so did the president who is pushing health care as the centerpiece of his agenda.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: To quote President Obama it wasn't a negotiation. It was a pep talk. That's what he said about his own closed door session with Senate Democrats yesterday. By all accounts, it was a speech that didn't deal with specifics, but tried to get everyone focused on the big picture - the historic import of reshaping the country's health care system. North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad called it a powerful speech.

Senator KENT CONRAD (Democrat, North Dakota): Very easy to lose sight of, or at least not be thinking of the larger importance of what's going on here. And this affects millions of people's lives. This is a big deal.

SEABROOK: Montana's Max Baucus said the president also reminded Democrats that those who vote for this legislation could be rewarded for their work, and not just in the coming election year.

Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana): Rewarded in 10 - and in 10 years and 20 years, 30 and 40. It's the most important social legislation since Social Security.

SEABROOK: And Baucus thinks Mr. Obama's speech worked. Baucus said he talked to a few, quote, �problem senators� after the speech and�

Sen. BAUCUS: �and you get this feel that all senators are looking for a way to vote for a cloture. It's going - we will get cloture, there's no doubt.

SEABROOK: Cloture is the vote that cuts off debate in the Senate - the only way Democrats could block a Republican filibuster. And they'll need the votes of all 60 Democrats to get it. So, holding them together is key for President Obama at this point, especially since the most arduous fights are yet to come.

Two big things split the party, the details of the so-called public option -Democrats are trying to work that one out behind the scenes - and how the bill deals with abortion. That one will likely be fought out in public as it was in the House.

Today, Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson will introduce the Senate version of the Stupak Amendment. It says if you get public money to help you buy insurance you can't buy a plan that covers abortion. It was named for Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak and has the support of most anti-abortion Democrats. Nelson reiterated, yesterday afternoon, that he will not let the Senate bill go forward unless it includes the Stupak language or something like it.

Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): I know that's a tough position but it's where I am. That doesn't foreclose the possibility of somebody coming in with language that's successful, it's just that I'm not sure how they do that.

SEABROOK: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed out that Democrats wouldn't be in this tricky position if they'd worked with Republicans more.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): So here we are, a few weeks before Christmas, with the Democrats trying to squeeze every single one of their members to swallow a pretty bitter pill for the American people.

SEABROOK: And that seemed to annoy Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): We have not had a single public statement from the Republicans that they'll do anything to help us with the bill. Quite to the contrary. And that is too bad for the American people.

SEABROOK: So now if you're wondering when the Senate might actually vote on their final bill, well, here's the direct quote from Senator Reid - �We're working hard to find out when we're going to start the procedural process to finish this legislation.� In other words, not there yet.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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