Armed with CBO report, Clyburn makes plea to holdovers

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 18, 2010 

WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn hailed a new nonpartisan analysis showing the sweeping health-care bill would cut the deficit as he made a frantic effort Thursday to secure enough votes needed for House passage.

Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said the report by the Congressional Budget Office, which predicted that the health-care legislation would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over a decade, had helped build momentum for the vote tentatively set for Sunday afternoon.

"I'm very hopeful that we will stay here and cast this vote on Sunday so when we come back next week, we can start other business and do some important things we need to do in addition to health care," Clyburn said at a televised Capitol Hill briefing.

The CBO analysis said the health-care plan would extend medical coverage to 32 million currently uninsured Americans by 2019 at a cost of $940 billion. That figure was $10 billion to $15 billion below the price tag Clyburn had predicted last week.

The health-care initiative's cost would be more than offset by savings of $500 billion through cutting Medicare fraud and new taxes on high-end "Cadillac" private insurance plans, according to the CBO.

The CBO, the nonpartisan budgetary arm of Congress, scored the reconciliation or "corrections" measure on which the House will vote. It contains a number of changes to the health-care bill passed by the Senate in December.

Rep. Gresham Barrett, Republican who is running for South Carolina governor, criticized the complicated parliamentary procedures Democrats are using to move the measure through Congress.

"While Democrats may publicly push a transparency initiative for Congress, they are still attempting to keep Americans in the dark on health-care reform through closed-door processes, sweetheart deals and legislative trickery," Barrett said.

Clyburn scurried from TV interviews to White House strategy sessions to closed-door meetings with 20 or so Democrats who hadn't decided how to vote on the health-care bill.

Thirty-nine Democrats voted against the original legislation in November when the House passed it by a 220-215 margin, most of them because of its cost or abortion funding limits they felt were too weak. The measure has been altered significantly since then.

If all 215 Republican House members vote against the bill as expected, Clyburn will need to obtain 216 Democratic votes for it to ensure passage. He said last week the tally could be closer than the November margin.

Obama joined Clyburn and other Democratic leaders in making personal pleas to the holdout Democrats. Asked by reporters where his vote count stood, Clyburn declined to provide a specific figure.

"We have not made a hard count," he said.

No Republicans are expected to support the bill.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, warned that the November midterm elections will become a referendum on health care.

"What they're trying to do to fix the problem is not worth it for the long-term future of the country," he said.

Clyburn, however, said now is the time to fix it.

"It's time to bring an end to insurance discrimination based on preexisting conditions," he said. "It's time to bring an end to the fear of many Americans that if they lose their jobs or change jobs, they cannot get health coverage. It's time to do what generations before us could not accomplish — it's time to pass health-insurance reform."

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