The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday is scheduled to debate a sweeping measure to reform the U.S. health care system, a major objective of President Barack Obama. Majority Democrats are still working to secure sufficient votes to pass the $1 trillion bill.
Though they are planning for a Saturday evening vote, Democrats are also preparing for any delaying tactics minority Republicans may employ against the bill.
Saying Democrats were very close to the 218 votes needed for approval, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer warned that if necessary he would keep lawmakers in session until the legislation is passed, on Sunday and into next week if necessary.
Estimated by the independent Congressional Budget Office at just over $1 trillion, Democrats say the bill would provide health insurance to 36 million Americans and eventually guarantee that 96 percent of Americans have coverage.
A government-run insurance option, fiercely debated in recent months, is part of the measure, which would also create public exchanges for Americans to choose between different plans and prevent private insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical problems.
On Friday, a special rules committee formally moved the bill to the House floor, Republicans complained that Democrats were trying to push it through without sufficient debate, or allowance for amendments.
Republican Representative Dave Camp reiterated his party's assertions that the bill would lead to further job losses and mounting debt. "The bill Speaker Pelosi crafted over the last 3 months behind closed doors, which has doubled in size from 1,000 to 2,000 pages, will do lasting damage to our economy, to medical innovation, and heap mountains of additional debt on our children and grandchildren," he said.
However, Democrat George Miller of California said the measure will guarantee for the first time that all Americans have access to affordable health care. "This legislation will set this country's health care system on a new and more sustainable course. It will end the insurer abuses and hold the insurance companies accountable so that all Americans will never have to worry about the coverage being stripped from them just as they need it the most," he said.
At a news conference, members of the Congressional Black Caucus said the government insurance option would go a long way toward correcting inequities in health care for minorities.
Donna Christensen, the representative in Congress of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said "The health toll and the death toll of disparities on racial and ethnic minorities are severe, and will no longer be tolerated."
President Obama is now scheduled to go to Capitol Hill on Saturday, a visit aimed at helping Democrats ensure they have the 218 votes needed for passage. However, House approval does not ensure victory on what is perhaps the most crucial legislative test of his first year in office.
The Senate must still pass its own health care reform bill, which contains similarities and differences with the House version, and no final bill can go to the president for signature until lawmakers work out differences between separate versions.