White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday the White House hopes to see the House approve the healthcare bill by March 18, the first day of the NCAA college basketball tournament and just before President Barack Obama leaves the country on an international trip.
Based on conversations the White House has had with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, healthcare reform is on track to move through Congress before Obama leaves for the trip to Indonesia and Australia, Gibbs said.
Pressed on what would be done by March 18, Gibbs said the first step would be for the House to pass the
Senate's original healthcare bill.
"I think this is going to get done in the next couple of weeks," Gibbs added.
In an address on Wednesday, Obama said Congress should give healthcare an up-or-down vote, signaling his support for a process in which the House would pass the Senate-approved bill. The House and Senate would then pass a package of fixes to that legislation, with the package considered in the Senate under budget reconciliation rules, preventing Republicans from forcing a supermajority vote on the measure.
Democrats are looking at an Easter deadline for completing healthcare reform, which would put final measures on the president's desk by the end of March.
Gibbs said the White House is continuing to work to ensure the votes are there to pass healthcare.
"We're going to work every day to make sure we have the votes," he said. "My sense is that if the vote were held today, we would have the votes."
Updated at 11:32 a.m.