- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2010

A top House Democrat said Sunday he believes Congress will pass a health care bill, but three fellow Democrats who opposed overhaul legislation last fall aren’t committing themselves to backing President Obama’s late push.

The House and the Senate approved different versions of the legislation by narrow margins. Merging the bills became more complicated when Senate Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in January after the election of Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican. House members are reluctant to approve the Senate plan on the promise that senators will tinker with provisions House members find objectionable.

Still, that wobbly bridge appeared to be the clearest path to meeting Mr. Obama’s goal of Congress passing a health care bill by March 18, when he leaves on a trip to Asia. Central to success is persuading some of the House members who voted against the original legislation to go along with the Senate bill.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, who heads the House Democrats’ campaign team, said House members are waiting to see the final plan and how the Congressional Budget Office analyzes its budget implications before deciding to support it.

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“I believe it will pass. Do we have a mortal lock? No,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “But I think the trend is in the right direction because people see that the status quo is absolutely broken.”

Three House Democrats who voted against the bill appeared open to considering changing their votes, but none of them committed to supporting the Senate legislation.

“The complexity, I think, worries a lot of people,” said Rep. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat. “And when you read these bills, they are very long, very complicated, because they build on an existing complicated system. And it’s not really a system. It’s a hodgepodge of (programs)… . That worries a lot of people, and, frankly, it troubles me.”

Rep. Jason Altmire, Pennsylvania Democrat, sounded the most optimistic. He said the Senate bill was better legislation overall, particularly in dealing with cost containment, but he added that he wanted to see the CBO’s analysis.

“In the end, I have to make a decision between passing this bill — this is the finish line — or doing nothing,” Mr. Altmire said.

Rep. John Adler, New Jersey Democrat, said he would not support a bill that doesn’t help businesses deal with rising insurance costs and doesn’t create more jobs.

“I’m not sure we’ve gone far enough in terms of fixing the underlying system to make it affordable for businesses and for taxpayers,” Mr. Adler said.

Mr. Van Hollen and Mr. Baird appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” while Mr. Altmire and Mr. Adler spoke on “Fox News Sunday.”

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