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President Barack Obama goes to Capitol Hill on Friday to urge Democrats to support legislation that would reform the U.S. health care system. The House of Representatives will meet in a special Saturday session to consider the sweeping overhaul of health care, as Republicans intensified their criticism of the measure.
For the president and Democratic leaders, the objective is the 218 vote majority required in the 435 member House of Representatives to pass the health care bill.
Senate Democrats have not yet finalized a bill for consideration. Approval of a House measure would be a major step toward the president's goal of health care reform by the end of this year.
With Republicans having made their opposition clear, President Obama will be trying to solidify support across the political spectrum in his own party.
On Thursday, he made a point of citing the decision by two key organizations, the American Association of Retired Person's (AARP) and the American Medical Association, to support the legislation. "They are endorsing this bill because they know it will strengthen Medicare, not jeopardize it. They know it will protect the benefits our seniors receive, not cut them," he said.
Also on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she is confident that Congress is on the brink of what she called a historic accomplishment, and repeated Democrat's pledge that the legislation would not add to the federal deficit.
"Accountability to our children that we will not add one dime to the deficit. The bill is paid for, and not only that, it reduces the deficit as we go forward, not add one dime to the deficit," he said.
At an outdoor rally, organized by a conservative organization Americans for Prosperity, a succession of speakers and Republican lawmakers assailed the legislation as a government takeover of health care and a threat to individual freedoms.
"This bill is the greatest threat to freedom that I have seen in the 19 years that I have been here in Washington, taking away your freedom to choose your doctor, the freedom to buy health insurance on your own. /// OPT /// It's going to lead to a government takeover of our health care system with tens of thousands of new bureaucrats right down the street making these decisions for you," saidJohn Boehner, the House Republican leader:
A House rules committee will meet on Friday to consider potential amendments to the legislation. Republicans will likely have an opportunity to offer their own substitute bill, which contains substantial differences.
Republicans point to an analysis by the independent Congressional Budget Office estimating that their plan would lower insurance premiums for Americans and reduce the federal deficit by $68 billion over 10 years.
However, Pelosi and other Democrats noted that the Republican's bill would provide health insurance to only 3 million people currently without it, while the Democrat's proposal aims to insure 36 million and eventually 96 percent of all Americans over time.
As Saturday's House debate nears, Pelosi and other leaders continued to negotiate unresolved issues with moderate and conservative Democrats whose votes will be crucial to achieving the 218 vote margin required for passage.
Pelosi's efforts were helped by the addition of two Democrats to the House resulting from off-year elections held this week.
Both the House and Senate would have to approve separate bills and resolve remaining differences between them, before sending a final bill to the president for signature. And there are concerns that the Senate might not be able to act on legislation before the year ends.