House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn hailed a new nonpartisan analysis showing the sweeping health care bill would cut the deficit as he tried frantically Thursday to secure the 216 votes needed for House passage.
Clyburn said the report by the Congressional Budget Office, which predicted 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 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.
A separate report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee said the updated health care legislation would extend new medical coverage to 493,000 mainly low-income South Carolinians and provide tax credits to an additional 1.16 million families and 92,200 small businesses to help them buy insurance.
"It's time to bring an end to insurance discrimination based on pre-existing conditions," Clyburn 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."
Rep. Gresham Barrett, a Westminster Republican running for 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.
The health care initiative's $940 billion cost over a decade 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.
Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, scurried from TV interviews to White House strategy sessions to closed-door meetings with 20 or so Democratic lawmakers 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 thought were too weak. The measure has been significantly changed 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.
Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican who galvanized conservative opposition to the Democratic plan, said it would lead to a government takeover of health care.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican, warned that if the measure becomes law with no Republican support, the November elections will become a referendum on health care.
Graham also predicted that no other meaningful legislation will move in Congress for the rest of the year if the Democrats succeed in pushing through partisan health care reforms.