- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2010

UPDATED:

The House’s chief Democratic head-counter said Sunday he hadn’t rounded up enough votes to pass President Obama’s health care overhaul as negotiations head into a make-or-break week, even as the White House’s top political adviser said he was “absolutely confident” in its prospects.

The administration gave signs of retreating on demands that senators jettison special home-state deals sought by individual lawmakers that have angered the public.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted House passage this week, before Mr. Obama travels to Asia, a trip he postponed to push for the bill.

“This is the week where we will have this important vote,” Mr. Gibbs said. “I do think this is the climactic week for health care reform.”

Mr. Obama’s chief political aide, David Axelrod, said Democrats will persuade enough lawmakers to vote “yes.”

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The House GOP leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, took up the challenge, acknowledging Republicans alone can’t stop the measure but pledging to do “everything we can to make it difficult for them, if not impossible, to pass the bill.” Republicans believe they may get help from Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns.

Mr. Axelrod said it will be a struggle, taking aim at insurance industry lobbyists, who “have landed on Capitol Hill like locusts,” and Republicans, who see being on the losing side of the vote as a political victory.

“I am absolutely confident that we are going to be successful. I believe that there is a sense of urgency on the part of members of Congress,” given recent news about insurance plan rate increases, Mr. Axelrod said.

A dose of reality came from Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat and main vote counter. “No, we don’t have them as of this morning, but we’ve been working this thing all weekend,” Mr. Clyburn said.

Mr. Clyburn also said he was confident the measure would pass, echoing comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, on Saturday.

Mr. Axelrod also indicated the White House was backing down on an attempt to get senators to rid the legislation of a number of lawmakers’ special deals.

Taking a new position, he said the White House only objects to state-specific arrangements, such as an increase in Medicaid funding for Nebraska, ridiculed as the “Cornhusker Kickback.” That’s being cut, but provisions that could affect more than one state are OK, Mr. Axelrod said.

That means that deals sought by senators from Montana and Connecticut would be fine, even though Mr. Gibbs last week singled them out as items Mr. Obama wanted removed. There was resistance, however, from two powerful committee chairman, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, and the White House apparently has backed down.

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