$138 billion savings boosts Dems' hopes as more pledge 'yes' votes on healthcare

Democrats hailed a Congressional Budget Office score Thursday that said their healthcare bill would trim the deficit by $138 billion as more of their members said they would vote “yes” on President Barack Obama’s signature issue.

The CBO projection represents a larger deficit reduction than the healthcare measures passed by both the House and the Senate last year; House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) pronounced himself “giddy” on account of  the numbers.

Obama also hailed the budget estimate on final legislation unveiled Thursday by the House, but postponed an overseas trip in order to remain in Washington to lobby wavering lawmakers ahead of a vote with huge implications for his presidency.

“Very clearly, the president wants to get this done,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in announcing the postponement. “I think any member who’s spoken to him wouldn’t doubt his strong desire to see this through.”

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told lawmakers to be ready for votes after 10 a.m. on Saturday, and after 2 p.m. on Sunday. Because House leaders have said they will give lawmakers 72 hours to consider legislation after it is scored by CBO, the Sunday vote is expected.

Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) need 216 House Democrats to support the healthcare package, an effort boosted by the CBO score.

“I needed to see the bill and the Congressional Budget Office score,” said Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), who shifted his position to “yes” on Thursday. “The bill fundamentally does what I hoped it would,” Schauer told the Citizen Patriot of Jackson, Mich.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) also cited the CBO score in announcing his support for the bill. The White House highlighted Gordon’s shift in an e-mail to reporters.

“I have consistently said I would not support any version of healthcare reform unless it brings down rising healthcare costs, improves access to affordable care and does it all without adding one nickel to the national deficit,” Gordon said. “I’ve now been presented with a bill that does all three.”

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said they would vote “yes” despite misgivings about immigration.

Rep. Luis Guiterrez (D-Ill.) reported that over a series of conversations, Obama offered a renewed commitment on immigration reform in exchange for the group's support. Gutierrez, who provided no details of those talks, was the only Hispanic Caucus member who said explicitly that he would vote against the Senate bill.

Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), who also had been undecided, likewise announced she’d vote “yes”.

Democrats did lose one critical liberal vote when Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who voted for the House healthcare bill in November, announced he’d vote “no” this time.

Lynch criticized the Senate bill as a “surrender” to insurance companies that did not represent meaningful reform.

“There’s a difference between compromise and surrender, right? And this is a complete surrender of all the things that people thought were important to healthcare reform,” said Lynch, who was due to speak to Obama on Thursday afternoon.

According to a running tally kept by The Hill, 36 Democrats are firm “no” votes, are likely to vote “no” or are leaning “no.”

Democrats can afford to lose 37 members and still clear healthcare through the House, assuming unified opposition from Republicans.

Nearly 50 Democrats remain undecided, and are likely to get the bulk of the attention over the next three days from their leaders and Obama.

Democrats also beat back an effort by Republicans to force an up-or-down vote on the Senate healthcare bill. In a 222-203 vote, Democrats beat back a resolution offered by Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Parker Griffith (Ala.).

The House is expected to vote on a rule crafted by Democrats that would deem the Senate healthcare bill as having been passed without an actual roll-call vote on the measure.

CBO told lawmakers that the health package would cost $940 billion over the next decade, reducing the deficit by $130 billion.

It will reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion in the second decade of the plan’s implementation, according to those who have seen the score.

That’s a larger deficit reduction than the healthcare measures passed by both the House and the Senate last year, though the CBO said the current bill would spend more than those bills.

“That makes this the most significant effort to reduce the deficit since the Balanced Budget Act of the 1990s,” Obama said Thursday.

The cost comes from extending health insurance coverage to 32 million people, some of whom would receive federal subsidies.

This would mean 95 percent of legal U.S. residents would be covered by health insurance by the end of the decade.

Through a combination of nearly $500 billion in Medicare spending reductions and new tax revenue, the new spending would be more than offset, resulting in $138 billion in deficit reduction over a decade — and potentially more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction from 2019 to 2029.

The reconciliation package tracks closely to Obama’s proposed changes to the Senate bill, a reflection of the negotiations between the White House and House and Senate Democratic leaders.