House Democratic leaders Sunday predicted passage of comprehensive health care reform, an outcome that seemed certain after agreement was reached with a bloc of anti-abortion Democrats to ease their concerns that federal money might be used for abortion.
The Democratic leaders had worked through the day to nail down the 216 votes needed to approve the measure tonight. They overcame a big obstacle when Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, leader of the anti-abortion lawmakers, said he and others would vote for the legislation
after securing agreement with the White House for an executive order that would ensure the longtime ban on federal funds for abortion would not be "circumvented."
"We're well past 216," Stupak said.
Stupak and his group had been concerned that the abortion language in the Senate bill, which the House is being asked to pass, was not a strong enough guarantee.
Even before that latest development, Connecticut Rep. John Larson, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said flatly Sunday morning that "we have the votes" to pass health care reform legislation in the House.
Speaking on ABC's This Week
, Larson said, "We are going to make history today. Not since President Roosevelt passed Social Security, Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare, and today, Barack Obama will pass health care reform, demonstrating whose side we're on."
California Rep. Henry Waxman, one of the key committee chairman involved in the legislation, predicted on CNN at 3:30 p.m. eastern that the measures would pass with more than the 216 votes.
Earlier in the day, other Democratic leaders, while predicting passage, had been less categoric.
"Between the members that have publicly committed and the members that we've been talking to whose questions we've been answering, I think we will have the 216 votes when we vote later this afternoon," Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on Fox News Sunday
. "The whip count is always in flux. We don't have a hard 216 right now. So I mean, I couldn't tell you which 216 members we will have, but I believe firmly that we'll have 216."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on NBC's Meet the Press
, "We're going to get those 216 votes ... I think we're going to have 216 votes when the roll is called, yes. There are still members looking at it and trying to make up their minds." He said the number of votes yet to be pinned down was in "single digits"
But his GOP counterpart, House Minority Leader John Boehner said on the same show, "It's clear from listening to Steny, they don't have the votes yet."
As the day wore on, the Democratic leadership started nailing down the votes of holdouts even before the Stupak announcement, including Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur
, one of the group of anti-abortion Democratics who did not like the Senate measure's language on abortion. Ohio Rep. Dave Driehaus, another anti-abortion Democrat, told CNN he would support the bill based on the language crafted for the White House executive order. Also, Washington Rep. Brian Baird
and North Dakota's Earl Pomeroy
, who had voted against the health care overhaul last November, said they would support the legislation.
The House began debate at 1 p.m. eastern time Sunday.
There will be several votes because House Democratic leaders abandoned a tactic that would have allowed them to "deem and pass" the Senate version of the health bill without an up-and-down vote. These will be on procedural rules for the debate, a vote on the Senate bill and then a vote on a bill containing changes to the Senate legislation that were needed to garner the support of House Democrats who didn't like provisions in the upper chamber's version.
On CNN's State of the Union
, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said of Larson's description of today as historic if health care passes, "I think it is going to be different from the way John thinks it is going to be. I think this is going to be a historic weekend because I think this weekend is going to be the beginning of the end of business as usual in Washington, D.C. I think the American people see an administration and see a Congress that are in a headlong rush to confront the very real challenges that we have in health care with more government instead of more freedom."
Pence vowed, "We are going to use every means at our disposal to oppose this government takeover of health care."
If the House passes the Senate bill and the measure containing fixes that House Democrats wants, the "fix-it" bill must then go to the Senate for approval where Democratic leaders have promised to pass it. To do so, it is being cast as a budget bill so it can be approved under a process called reconciliation that requires only a simple majority to pass and cannot be filibustered.
Asked on CBS' Face the Nation
whether Senate Republicans would shower the bill with amendments to drag out the process, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "It's not a question of dragging it out. It's a question of making sure the American people know what's in it. We'll have all kinds of amendments on the substance. Then of course there are special rules that apply to one of these so-called reconciliation bills that will be tested in the Senate. It will be various rulings by the parliamentarian as to whether things meet the so-called Byrd rule (whether contents of the measure are germane to the budget). And those will be tested in votes as well."
McConnell would not predict whether Republicans could stop the bill from passing, but said, "it could end up going back to the House of Representatives for a second vote. They may not be through with it after today. They may get it back if it doesn't succeed in the Senate."
On NBC, Boehner added, "If this bill passes, we will have an effort to repeal the bill."