- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2010

President Obama has postponed his trip to Indonesia and Australia until June so that he can help shepherd through Democrats’ massive health care overhaul this weekend, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday.

Mr. Obama already has put off the trip once, delaying his departure from Thursday to Sunday, to remain in Washington as his allies on Capitol Hill seek to nail down the last votes to push through a bill. But Mr. Gibbs said the White House made the call Thursday morning after it became apparent that the House could not hold a vote until Sunday afternoon at the earliest in order to give lawmakers 72 hours to read the final bill introduced Thursday afternoon.

“The president greatly regrets the delay,” he told reporters. “Our international alliances are critical to America’s security and economic progress, but passage of health insurance reform is of paramount importance, and the president is determined to see this battle through.”

Mr. Obama has been talking to lawmakers around the clock to try to solicit votes as House Democratic leaders face a struggle to obtain a majority in the chamber. Mr. Gibbs said Democrats were buoyed by a preliminary cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office that predicted the bill would cost $940 billion over 10 years and cut the deficit in that time by $138 billion.

TWT RELATED STORY: Price tag in hand, Dems prepare for final health care vote

For their part, Republicans argued that the CBO analysis is only preliminary and also projects roughly $1 trillion in expanded entitlement spending.

“This bill does not reduce deficits. This bill is does not control costs,” Republicans on the House Budget Committee said in a statement. “This bill adds a new health care entitlement when we have no idea how to pay for the entitlements we already have.”

On Capitol Hill, key Democrats said they were pleased the president decided to stay in town.

“We’re swamped,” said Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, who is Finance Committee chairman. “His personal presence helps.”

Though Mr. Obama wouldn’t take a position on the parliamentary maneuver House Democrats are considering to push the bill through, Mr. Gibbs told reporters that the president definitely would sign a bill that was approved thorugh use of the so-called “deem-and-pass” technique that allows them to vote on fixes to the Senate bill without voting directly on the underlying bill itself.

Mr. Gibbs also said the delay does not diminish the importance of the issues the president planned to discuss on his trip, including counterterrorism and the country’s export agenda.

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