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Obama in 11th-hour US health plea

President Barack Obama in Washington on 5 November, 2009
Mr Obama has made healthcare reform a central plank of his domestic agenda

US Barack Obama has launched a last-minute effort to secure approval of his landmark healthcare reforms by the House of Representatives.

Mr Obama made a rare visit to Congress to try to persuade wavering members of his own Democratic Party.

Later he urged them to "finish the job" and "answer the call of history".

The bill, now being debated, will extend coverage to 36m more Americans and provide affordable healthcare to 96%, supporters say.

All House Republicans are opposed to it.

If the bill passes, the next step will be to reconcile it with a separate Senate bill.

It passed its first hurdle, with its proponents winning a test vote setting the terms of the debate by a margin of 50, although 15 Democrats joined Republicans in trying to block the debate.

Public option

President Obama has made reform of the healthcare system a central plank of his domestic agenda.

HEALTHCARE IN THE US
47 million uninsured, 25 million under-insured
Healthcare costs represent 16% of GDP, almost twice OECD average

After private talks with lawmakers on Saturday, he said such opportunities came around "maybe once in a generation".

He added: "Even when it's hard - especially when it's hard. This is our moment to deliver.

"I urge members of Congress to rise to this moment - answer the call of history and vote 'yes' for health insurance reform for America."

There are a total of 258 Democrats in the House, but many have not committed to support the reforms.

Mr Obama needs 218 votes - more than half the 435 House seats. The New York Times said he had secured 205 votes by Friday evening and was negotiating for the other 13.

After meeting the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was confident of a win.

The House debate opened on Saturday with Democrats who support it saying it was needed morally, socially and economically.

Its mainly Republican opponents say the bill is over-ambitious, creates too much government control and could be hugely damaging to the economy.

Delays?

The bill would allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private companies and make insurers offer cover to those with pre-existing conditions.

Obama makes health vote plea

But this so-called "public option" has been scaled back in the wrangling that preceded the House vote.

The Democrats have reportedly offered concessions to anti-abortion legislators to allow a vote on an amendment on whether to allow public funding for abortion programmes.

The Washington Post predicted the anti-abortion lobby would now win that amendment vote and anger abortion rights supporters within the Democratic Party.

Mississippi's Republican Governor Haley Barbour said the bill should be "withdrawn and reworked" in favour of a more modest programme.

Although the House vote could come on Saturday, Mr Hoyer said it could be delayed to Sunday or even as late as Tuesday.

Once both the House and Senate have approved their own versions, a conference committee, made up of lawmakers from both houses, will convene to reconcile the two.

If both chambers then vote in favour of the reconciled version, it will be sent to Mr Obama for his approval, and become law.



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