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Democrats File Manager’s Amendment, Start 72-Hour Clock

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a catch-all package of tweaks to her sweeping health care overhaul late Tuesday, but punted on a dispute over abortion language that continues to bedevil the broader bill.

By publicly posting the amendment package Tuesday night, House Democrats started a 72-hour clock they pledged to wind down before bringing the bill to the floor, setting up a possible vote Friday night. A more likely scenario, however, is that leaders will wait until Saturday at least to ensure a daytime vote.

In the meantime, leaders will continue working through the hang-up over abortion policy, with a potential deal centering on compromise language shopped around Tuesday by Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) that would require a private contractor to pay for abortions instead of the federal government.

Leaders tackled another hot-button social policy dispute — over immigration — by adding language in the amendment prohibiting illegal immigrants from participating in a new, national high-risk pool.

The high-risk pool, which is subsidized with $5 billion, is intended to provide a bridge for people with pre-existing conditions who are unable to get insurance coverage before a new national insurance exchange takes effect in 2013. The amendment does not appear to affect the ability of illegal immigrants from buying insurance on the exchange with their own money, although they remain prohibited from getting any subsidies from the government. The amendment also clarifies requirements for verification of immigration status.

Pelosi in a statement said the measure makes “key improvements— to the introduced bill. They include adding $1 billion for states to tackle price gouging by insurance companies, giving the federal government the power to exclude insurers from a new health insurance exchange if they raise rates too quickly, and establishing a hotline for consumers to report waste, fraud and abuse. “Americans are ready for comprehensive health insurance reform, and the House will soon act,— Pelosi said.

The bill also includes an extensive provision governing biofuels — a measure that appears to have been inserted by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). Van Hollen said in a statement earlier Tuesday that his proposal would save $24 billion over ten years to help pay for health care reform.

Republicans, meanwhile, were blasting Democrats on the abortion issue, honing in on the Ellsworth proposal. A statement from Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-N.J.) office said that plan would “contract out killing unborn children.—

“The new language does nothing to change the fact that the public option will be authorized to pay for abortion,— said Smith, who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. “Slaughtering innocent children is never health care.—