WASHINGTON — President Obama now expects Democrats can get the votes in Congress needed for final passage of the health care overhaul by March 21 &mdash and as a result announced today that he will delay by three days a scheduled trip to Guam, Indonesia and Australia.
The president's plan to expand coverage to 31 million more Americans and impose new regulations on the insurance industry is his biggest domestic policy promise.
It wasn't clear whether the White House optimism was shared by House Democrats. Shortly after the announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not offer the same assurance. "We're getting there," was what her spokesman, Brendan Daly, said asked if she had the 216 votes needed for passage.
It was hard to gauge the mood of many lawmakers after a morning meeting of House Democrats.
Obama was scheduled to leave March 18 for the week-long trip that includes a return to Jakarta, where he lived from ages 6-10. His wife and girls were to accompany him and it would have been Sasha and Malia's first trip to Indonesia. Instead, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced this morning, the trip would be delayed and the president's family would no longer accompany him.
A White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make a statement said that the president felt it was important to make the foreign trip as promised because the visits are important for furthering U.S. national security and economic interests.
"But obviously it's a critical time in the health care debate as well and the president felt it was important to remain in Washington for a few extra days to remain on hand as Congress approaches these votes," the official said. He said no further delays to the departure are expected to be necessary.