Washington President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care legislation won precious support from a longtime liberal holdout in the House on Wednesday and from a retired Catholic bishop and nuns representing dozens of religious orders — gaining fresh traction ahead of a climactic weekend vote.
“That’s a good sign,” said Obama, two weeks after taking personal command of a campaign to enact legislation in what has become a virtual vote of confidence on his still-young presidency.
But Democrats delayed the planned release of formal legislation at least until today as they sought to make sure it would reduce federal deficits annually over the next decade.
At the White House, Obama met with Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO. Officials said the labor leader raised concerns over the details of a planned excise tax on high-cost insurance plans as well as other elements of the as-yet-unreleased legislation.
The long-anticipated measure is actually the second of two bills that Obama hopes lawmakers will send him in coming days, more than a year after he urged Congress to remake the nation’s health care system. The first cleared the Senate late last year but went no further because House Democrats demanded significant changes — the very types of revisions now being packaged into the second bill.
Together, the measures are designed to extend coverage to more than 30 million who now lack it and ban the insurance industry from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. Obama also has asked lawmakers to slow the growth of medical spending generally, a far more difficult goal to achieve.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s announcement in the Capitol made him the first Democrat to declare he would vote in favor of the legislation after voting against an earlier version, and he stressed he was still dissatisfied with key parts.
“I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it but as it is,” said the Ohio lawmaker, who twice ran for president advocating national health care. “If my vote is to be counted, let it now count for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive health care reform.”
Referring to the political struggle under way, Kucinich said, “You do have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate. Even though I have many differences with him on policy, there’s something much bigger at stake here for America.”
Obama lobbied Kucinich heavily for his vote, including aboard Air Force One earlier in the week on a trip to northeastern Ohio for a presidential speech.
Republicans are opposed to the legislation, arguing it still amounts to a government takeover of health care, largely paid for through higher taxes and deep cuts in Medicare that will harm seniors. In recent days, they have also turned their criticism on Pelosi, who says the House may approve the Senate-passed bill without casting a separate vote on it. Instead, under a rule that would itself be subject to a vote, it would be considered passed automatically if the second fix-it bill passed.
This approach has been used numerous times in recent years by both political parties, but Republicans added it to their list of grievances as they sought to send Obama’s top domestic priority down to defeat.
“The only way to stop this madness is for a few courageous Democrats to step forward and stop it,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate GOP leader.
“Historians will remember this as a new low in this debate, the week that America was introduced to the scheme-and-deem approach to legislating. They’ll remember this as the week that Congress tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the public in order to get around their will.”