The U.S. House of Representatives is set to hold a crucial vote on Sunday on sweeping health care reform legislation. President Barack Obama has postponed his planned Asia-Pacific trip to Indonesia and Australia for a second time to be in Washington, D.C. as Congress votes on his top domestic priority after a year of debate and wrangling.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Thursday that President Obama is confident that the health care reform legislation will soon be the law of the land in the United States.
"I think health care is going to pass the House on Sunday. I believe shortly it will pass the Senate, and the president will be able to sign all of it into law," he said.
The president postponed his planned overseas trip until June to oversee the culmination of a year-long effort to pass health care reform legislation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled what Democrats hope will be the last, corrected version of a $940-billion health care reform bill, which will extend health insurance coverage to some 32 million people who are currently uninsured. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released figures Thursday estimating the legislation will reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over its first 10 years.
House Speaker Pelosi, who is still trying to nail down the 216 votes she needs for the bill to pass the House, was very pleased with the CBO numbers, which may help to win over fiscally-conservative Democrats who face tough re-election battles in November.
"For the health and well-being of American people, for the fiscal soundness of America's budget, for seniors, for our young people, for women, for small businesses and for competitiveness we will make history and we will make progress by passing this legislation," she said.
If it passes, the massive health care overhaul will re-structure one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and for the first time will require that most Americans carry health insurance and penalize medium-sized and large companies that don't provide health insurance coverage for their employees. It will also place restrictions on insurance companies, for example by not allowing them to exclude people because of pre-existing medical conditions.
Democrats are using a complicated legislative process to pass the bill. First, the House will have to approve a Senate bill that many of its Democratic members strongly dislike. Then both chambers will need to quickly pass a package of corrections to the bill agreed to in negotiations with the White House.
Republican lawmakers have opposed the health care bill from the outset, saying it is too big, too expensive, and that it inserts government bureaucrats into American's medical decisions.
House Minority leader John Boehner has vowed that Republicans will "do everything that we can do to make sure this bill never, ever, ever passes", and some Republicans in the Senate say they have been studying Senate rules to do whatever they can to block the legislation if it arrives back in the Senate next week.