- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2010

House Democrats are on track for a Sunday vote on sweeping health care legislation that will expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans while also reducing the federal deficit, leaders said Thursday.

The bill delivers on President Obama’s top domestic priority by providing coverage to more than 30 million people now uninsured at a 10-year cost of $940 billion. It does so through a combination of tax credits for middle-class households and an expansion of the Medicaid program for low income people.

The No. 2 Democrat in the House said the health care package also would reduce the federal deficit by more than $100 billion over its first 10 years — and more than $1 trillion in the second decade.

“I think the momentum is growing for this bill,” said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “The more and more people have looked at this bill … a greater number of people are becoming more comfortable.”

The big expansion of coverage would not come until 2014, when new health insurance marketplaces open for business.

In the meantime, the legislation calls for a series of new consumer benefits. Insurers could not deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing health problem, nor could they place lifetime dollar caps on the amount of coverage. A new high-risk health insurance pool would provide coverage to uninsured people who can’t get private coverage because of health problems.

Once the legislation is phased in fully, most Americans would be required to carry coverage — and insurers would be forbidden from turning down people with health problems or from charging them more.

Democrats are following a complicated two-track legislative strategy for passing the bill. First, the House will have to approve a Senate bill that many of its Democratic members object to. Then both chambers quickly will pass a package of fixes agreed to in negotiations with the White House.

Since the House will vote first, Mr. Hoyer said, lawmakers are seeking assurances from their Senate counterparts that they have enough votes to pass the follow-up measure as well.

President Obama said later in the morning that the Congressional Budget Office is set to release an analysis that will show the legislation will reduce the federal deficit by $1.3 trillion over the next two decades.

“Make this legislation the most significant effort to reduce the deficit since the Balanced Budget Act of the 1990s,” said the president, urging Congress to pass the bill.

Republican leaders responded to the developments by sharply criticizing congressional Democrats and Mr. Obama, who has relentlessly pushed his initiative to reform the U.S. health care system.

“I’m sorry, Mr. President, but this is not about you,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said at a Capitol Hill press conference. “This is about the American people. [Democrats] are going to attempt to ram, ram, ram this bill through Congress. House and Senate Republicans have worked closely … to make sure this bill never, ever passes.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the House and Senate leaders of the Democrat-controlled Congress think they are “smarter than everybody else.”

“That type of arrogance usually leads to a big fall,” he said.

Mr. McConnell also said Americans have followed this issue like no other in U.S. history and have concluded the legislation will cut Medicare benefits and increase insurance costs.

Mr. McConnell said they also would be furious if House Democrat leaders, lacking the minimum 216 votes, use a parliamentary procedure instead of an up-or-down vote to pass the Senate bill.

“Can you imagine the outrage of the American people?” he asked.

Online editor Joseph Weber contributed to this story.

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