Barack Obama went to Capitol Hill yesterday in a final effort to persuade wavering Democrats in the House of Representatives to back healthcare reform in today's crucial vote on which he has virtually staked his presidency.
Last night Democratic leaders were increasingly confident of rounding up the 216 votes needed for a majority. But the outcome was hanging in the balance to the end, with the Republicans unanimously opposed, and the bill's fate dependent on a handful of Democratic Congressmen, mainly abortion opponents, who say the measure as it stands does not impose tight enough restrictions on coverage of abortion.
Any concessions run the risk of alienating supporters of abortion rights. In the meantime, Democratic leaders were finalising the complex procedure by which they hope to get the $940bn bill to Mr Obama's desk by Easter.
Mr Obama told Democrats that passage of the "historic" measure was essential to correct an "unsustainable" situation in a sector accounting for a sixth of the entire US economy. Health costs, he insists, are spiralling out of control, while the number of people without coverage, currently 46 million, will grow if nothing is done. If this bill goes down in flames, he argues, it will be years before another attempt at reform is possible.
Even so, the vote remains a cliffhanger. Over the past 24 hours, half a dozen Democratic opponents of the measure have announced they will switch their votes to yes. Republicans, however, are trying to devise further procedural traps to stall or invalidate the House vote, tentatively scheduled for this afternoon.Reuse content