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House Kicks Off Debate on Health Care Bill

The House on Saturday opened debate on the Democratic health care plan, a delicately crafted package that will demand the support of Democrats uneasy about votes on abortion and immigration provisions.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the sponsor of the bill and the longest-serving House Member, was greeted with cheers as he gaveled the House to order to begin debate on the rule, the first major vote of the day. This marked the first time Dingell has presided since the House passed legislation creating Medicare on April 8, 1965.

“As a man in this House who has had reform of health care in his blood, who has worked longer than anyone in America alive today to see this day, I am so happy to see you in this chair. It is an historic day made even more wonderful for us by having you preside,— said Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

President Barack Obama will meet with the Democratic Caucus late Saturday morning in a final push to support the package.

The president’s effort comes as Democratic leaders face a potential revolt by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus if Republicans successfully amend the health care overhaul to prohibit illegal immigrants from using their own money to buy health insurance in the new national insurance exchange.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the CHC on Friday that there is “nothing they can do— if Republicans use a motion to recommit to add the ban to the bill, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the matter.

“It seems the CHC has themselves in pickle,— said the aide. If Republicans opt to use the procedural motion to force a vote on the ban, “either some CHC members will have to grow a spine and vote against [the bill] … or backtrack. It’s like a chess game here.—

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said on C-SPAN this morning that CHC members would vote against any measure that includes such a ban. That would likely be enough to bring down the bill, unless Hispanic Members can be placated with promises about what a bill would look like coming back from conference with the Senate.

Any such promises however would be difficult to enforce given that Senate language already bans illegal immigrants from accessing the exchange and the White House has endorsed the ban.

“I’m going to vote against it if it includes the language … this stupid language,— Gutierrez said later.

Gutierrez blamed the White House for going too far in trying to make the point that the bill would not cover illegal immigrants after Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) accusation that the president was lying about services being provided to illegal immigrants.

“What the president did was he ginned this up to the point where he has a problem,— said Gutierrez.

Obama has vowed to address comprehensive immigration reform, however, and if passed, such a bill would likely render moot the ban on illegal immigrants before the insurance exchange takes effect in 2013.

Democratic leaders also still face turbulence on the abortion issue, despite giving in to demands from anti-abortion Democrats to allow a vote on an amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) prohibiting abortion coverage in public or private plans subsidized by the federal government in the new insurance exchange.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said on C-SPAN Saturday morning that supporters of abortion rights would lobby hard against the amendment but said that she would support sending the bill to conference even if it passes. However, Schakowsky said she would vote against a conference report that included the ban.