President Barack Obama stops to speak with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., as he walked back to the White House, from the Blair House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010, after a morning of meetings with Republican and Democrat lawmakers as he renewed his plan to reform health care. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama set his sights on Capitol Hill Saturday, ready to rally House Democrats for a final push on landmark health care legislation as he hunted for the precious few votes for victory.
The battle tilted in Obama's direction Friday as more Democrats disclosed how they would vote. But with a hardly a single vote to spare, the divisive issue of how to keep federal funds from being used to pay for abortions re-emerged as a potential last-minute obstacle.
With the showdown vote set for Sunday in the House, Obama decided to make a final personal appeal to Democrats with a Saturday afternoon visit to the Capital. Republicans, unanimous in opposition to the bill, complained anew about its cost and reach.
Under a complex and disputed procedure the Democrats have devised, a single vote probably will be held to send one bill to Obama for his signature and to ship a second, fix-it measure to the Senate for a vote in the next several days.
Democratic leaders and Obama focused last-minute lobbying efforts on two groups of Democrats: 37 who voted against an earlier bill in the House and 40 who voted for it only after first making sure it would include strict abortion limits that now have been modified.
Leaders worked into Friday night attempting to resolve the dispute over abortion, and Saturday morning they were increasingly confident it would not scuttle the bill.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who succeeded last November in inserting strict anti-abortion language into the House bill, had hoped to do so again. But a senior Democratic aide cast doubt Saturday on whether Stupak would succeed because leaders were closing in on the votes to pass the bill.
Two abortion opponents familiar with the negotiations said talks between Stupak and the Democratic leadership had broken off. All spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.
Stupak, with eight Democrats and one Republican as co-sponsors, had introduced a resolution Friday that would insert his abortion restrictions as a "correction" to the underlying bill. That would add new complications to the already complex strategy Democrats are pursuing to pass the bill, requiring additional votes on a highly charged issue. Abortion opponents are divided over whether restrictions on taxpayer funding for abortion already in the bill go far enough.
The vote count seemed to be breaking in Obama's favor.
Reps. John Boccieri of Ohio, Scott Murphy of New York and Allen Boyd and Suzanne Kosmas of Florida became the latest Democrats to announce support for the bill Friday after voting against an earlier version that passed last year, bringing the number of switches in favor of the bill to seven.
On the other side of the ledger, Reps. Michael Arcuri of New York and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts became the first Democratic former supporters to announce their intention to oppose the bill. Lynch said he did so despite a telephoned appeal from Vicki Kennedy, whose late husband, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., championed health care for decades.
Rep. Anh Cao of Louisiana, the only Republican to support the earlier measure, has announced his opposition, too.