Still struggling to find enough votes to pass health reform, President Obama, White House officials and the House’s Democratic leaders pressed furiously to overcome issues threatening to derail the landmark measure, agreeing under pressure to allow a vote on banning federal money for abortions that, if passed, could bring down the entire bill.
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Democrats would come together and pass the bill, even if that meant convincing supporters of abortion rights that the deal was a good one.
“We’re confident we’re going to have the votes later today,” Mr. Hoyer said on MSNBC Saturday morning.
The amendment would ban any taxpayer funding of abortion in the public insurance plan or through private insurers if tax subsidies are used. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops signed off on the language, indicating it would go over well with opponents of abortion rights.
But supporters of abortion rights said they didn’t want to risk denying poor women access to an abortion.
Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, said the pro-life caucus would have a hard time voting for a health bill that went any further than a compromise reached in the Energy and Commerce Committee in July.
Rep. James P. McGovern of Massachusetts said he was “very very uncomfortable” with the amendment and Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida said he worried the ban would mark a “return to the dark ages” in which women turn to the black market to obtain abortions. He said he’d have a hard time voting for the health care reform bill with the ban.
Opponents of abortion rights had threatened to hold up passage of the bill. Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat and head of the pro-life caucus, told reporters Friday that he was confident 40 Democrats would help him defeat the bill’s introduction if he didn’t get the vote.
The ban very well could successfully be tacked onto the bill, assuming many of the 177 Republicans would join the 40 Democrats, and possibly more, in support of the ban.
Earlier Friday, House Democrats and White House officials lobbied rank-and-file Democrats to support the bill.
At least one fence-riding Democrat said he had received calls from Mr. Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Secretary Arnie Duncan and Hill leaders — all on Friday alone.
“It doesn’t appear they have the votes. That’s pretty clear,” said Rep. Jason Altmire, Pennsylvania Democrat. “There’s a sense of urgency. You can feel it.”
Mr. Hoyer said Friday that Democrats are “very close” to nailing down 218 Democrats to support the historic 10-year, $1.2 trillion bill if it comes up for a vote Saturday night, but he said debate could go into Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.
Mr. Obama is planning an in-person pitch in a rare visit to Capitol Hill on Saturday.
Democrats have 258 seats, meaning they can can pass the bill with no more than 40 defections from within their ranks. Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor said none of the chamber’s 177 Republicans would support the bill.
Democratic leaders appeared to overcome another obstacle when opting to prevent an effort to ban illegal immigrants from purchasing private insurance. The measure had drawn the ire of the Hispanic Caucus. Rules Committee Chairman Louise M. Slaughter of New York said the ban would not be inserted into the bill.
A number of Democrats already have come out in opposition to the bill, including moderate Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr. of Maryland.
He told reporters Friday that he was swayed by the cost of the bill and the impact on the deficit and small businesses.
Mr. Altmire added that his callers emphasized the legislation would change once it left the House, but that if it’s defeated now the drive to enact sweeping changes would be over for the foreseeable future. He said he remained undecided on his vote.
Of the Democrats who have announced their opposition, most of them are moderate to conservative members of the so-called Blue Dog Coalition.
The White House issued a statement of support for the measure, saying it “meets the president’s criteria for health insurance reform: It assures that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care that is there when they need it and does so without adding a dime to the deficit.”