Obama cancels Asia trip with health care vote likely Sunday

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 18, 2010 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama today postponed a planned trip to Indonesia and Asia, putting the long-panned visit off until June to he can remain in Washington to push for Congressional approval of health care legislation.

"The president believes that right now the place for him to be is in Washington, seeing this through,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Obama's plans for the trip were thrown into the air as Congressional Democrats continued to strive to round up votes for the package in the House of Representatives.

"We told the White House we thought it was important for the president to be here," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Obama had originally planned to help push the package through the House, then leave Friday for a week-long trip to Guam, Indonesia and Australia.

When it became clear the Democrats could not get it done in time, Obama hoped the House would vote by Saturday and delayed his scheduled departure until Sunday morning.

Gibbs then predicted that the health care proposal would be law by Sunday.

By Thursday morning, however, it became clear that Congressional leaders were still working to write part of the package and post it to the Internet for public review – the part that would amend a Senate health care plan and make it palatable to House members.

Given the promise to post the second bill for at least 72 hours before voting, Democrats concluded they could not vote before Obama’s scheduled Sunday morning liftoff -- and Obama opted to postpone the trip for more than two months.

He then called the two countries' leaders to inform them of their decision.

The word came shortly after House Democrats unveiled a report from the Congressional Budget Office that said the health care bill the House is considering will trim the federal budget deficit by $138 billion in the next 10 years.

That report is likely to give the Democrats' health care efforts an important boost. The preliminary CBO analysis had been stalled for nearly a week, as Democrats scrambled to change their health care plan so that its cost remained under $1 trillion and deficits could be cut.

The legislation was unveiled Thursday and makes at least three major changes from the versions that the House of Representatives and Senate passed last year. The full text can be found here.

It would end the Medicare prescription-drug coverage gap, in which Medicare now stop paying for prescriptions each year once the government and the consumer have spent $2,830 on them. The benefit then resumes once annual out-of-pocket spending reaches $4,550.The bill would close that so-called "doughnut hole."

It would provide help for lower- and middle-income families, and expand coverage to about 32 million uninsured, meaning that about 95 percent of all Americans would be covered. It also would help states pay the cost of Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for lower-income people.

The bill will contain many provisions that have broad support. Among them: Insurers couldn't deny coverage to anyone because of pre-existing conditions, and there could be no lifetime limits on coverage. It's also expected to extend Medicare's solvency by nine years; Medicare's fund that pays hospital benefits is expected to be exhausted by 2017.

The bill aims to reduce Medicare spending by 1.4 percentage points a year.

This story is developing. Check back for additional details.

Read David Lightman's account of the CBO report here.

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