Washington Report: Updates From Capitol Hill

President Obama signs jobs bill

Getting to Yes
With less than 48 hours to go before the U.S. House of Representatives votes on the Senate healthcare bill, Democratic leadership was still furiously whipping up votes to get the 216 needed for passage.

According to Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina), a designated vote counter, members were wavering for a variety of reasons. They included the abortion language in the bill and the employer mandate, which some lawmakers are arguing is too stringent and will affect employers’ profitability. “I don’t buy the argument but it’s one some moderates are making,” Butterfield said. “At the end of the day, leadership is going to be able to reconcile all of these concerns and get a bill. Right now we’re right on the mark, but I’m confident that by Sunday afternoon we’ll have maybe two or three more than the 216.”

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) is one Democrat who’s leaning no because a provision in the Senate bill that would have extended an outpatient prescription drug discount program to hospital inpatients has “disappeared” from the version being considered by the House. Rush said it would save $1.7 billion over 10 years and help millions of people struggling to pay for prescription medicine. His stand has caught the attention of President Obama, who Rush said called him this morning. “The president called me this morning and said he’s going to look into it and get back to me,” said Rush. “It’s the only thing holding me back.”

Butterfield said that some carrots are being given out in exchange for much-needed votes, but leadership is also wielding a few sticks when necessary. “This is about more than one member’s particular interests. It’s about fixing a broken healthcare system that disproportionately affects African Americans, poor people, and working families,” Butterfield said. “I know that Speaker Pelosi has explained to members, particularly those from safe districts, that they need to step up to the plate and join Barack Obama and the Democratic majority.”

But as Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), an undecided member from a pretty safe Texas district, told a scrum of reporters today, “At the end of the day, when we take a vote, Obama is not going to be out there supporting and running my election. It’s going to be up to me to decide on my own if this is in the best interest of my district.”

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