President Barack Obama on Monday delivered an emotional closing argument for his healthcare plan, kicking off a week he hopes will end with a conclusive vote in Congress after a year of debate.
Although publicly confident of passing the overhaul, Democrats in Washington were scrambling behind the scenes to line up votes in the U.S. House of Representatives and persuade wavering moderate Democrats to pass a Senate-approved bill.
On a visit to Ohio, Obama again criticized the health insurance industry to make his case for a revamp of the system to rein in what he called abuses by insurers, declaring it is time for health insurance reform, right now!
We can't have a system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people, he said to raucous cheers at the campaign-style event.
Obama used the case of a cancer-stricken Ohio woman, Natoma Canfield, who had written him a letter describing her worsening health and rising insurance premiums to show why his changes were needed in the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system.
He also cited the case of his Kansas-born mother, Ann Dunham, who died of cancer in 1995.
I'm here because of my own mother's story. She died of cancer and in the last six months of her life, she was on the phone in her hospital room arguing with insurance companies instead of focusing on getting well and spending time with her family, Obama said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, was trying to wrap up the votes of Obama's key domestic goal over the opposition of Republicans, who consider the Democrats' plans a government takeover of healthcare that will lead to higher premiums.
Obama delayed his first overseas trip of the year this week to help round up votes for the overhaul, the focus of a pitched political battle that has consumed the U.S. Congress for the last nine months.
In a two-step process, House Democrats want to approve the Senate's version of the bill this week and make the changes sought by Obama and House Democrats through a separate measure passed under budget reconciliation rules.
Those rules require only a simple majority in the 100-member Senate, bypassing the need for 60 votes to overcome Republican procedural hurdles. The House and Senate hope to finish work on the second bill before starting a two-week Easter recess on March 26.
(Writing by Alister Bull and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Paul Simao)