U.S. President Barack Obama has met with Democrats in the U.S. House of
Representatives to urge them to support the health care reform bill
being debated in the chamber.
House Democratic leaders met with Mr. Obama behind closed doors for several minutes Saturday. Speaking to reporters at the White House Rose Garden, the president said he told House members the country is closer now than ever before to passing health care reform, and that it is time to finish the job.
House Majority Whip James Clyburntold reporters the visit brought Democrats together, but he said that Mr. Obama's appearance probably did not change any votes.
While the president met with Democrats, spirited, sometime rancorous debate on the bill continued on the House floor.
Democratic leaders in the House expressed hope the bill could be voted on later in the day, but the discussions could extend into Sunday.
In interviews Saturday, House Democratic leader Representative Steny Hoyer expressed confidence they will have the votes needed to pass the reform package.
Democrats will have to pass the measure on their own because no Republicans have indicated they will support it.
In the Republican Party's weekly radio address, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour called for the House bill to be scrapped and replaced by a more modest measure that would have bipartisan support.
Late Friday, the Democratic leadership cleared an abortion-related impasse that would have blocked the sweeping reform package when they agreed to allow the entire House to vote on an amendment limiting abortion coverage.
Under the amendment, only people buying private insurance and without any federal subsidies would be able to buy policies that cover abortion. The only exceptions would be in the case of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.
The compromise has disappointed the many Democrats who favor abortion rights, but it will gain support from anti-abortion Democrats whose votes are crucial to passing the larger bill.
The independent Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will cost a little more than $1 trillion. It has received the endorsement of the American Association of Retired Persons, a powerful senior citizens lobbying group, and the American Medical Association, an organization representing doctors.