Final Health Care Weekend? What To Expect From Saturday’s Showdown

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The major vote on health care reform legislation is expected Sunday afternoon, but there is plenty of action on Capitol Hill today that will tell us a lot about whether tomorrow will yield the historic passage of a sweeping overhaul of the health care system, or be a bust without enough votes.

TPMDC is tracking all of the developments. Brian is keeping a close eye on the crucial negotiations over abortion provisions, including why Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) indefinitely postponed a planned 11 a.m. press conference. Evan will be tracking conservatives who say an afternoon tea party rally near the Capitol is their last chance to stop the bill. I’m monitoring the Rules Committee hearing (live on C-SPAN2) which will set the framework for debate. We’ll have it all for you on our Countdown to Reform Wire.

Another key event to watch today is a caucus meeting with two rare special guests – President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Obama is expected to listen to any final concerns and rally House Democrats toward passage of the measure Sunday. But more important is Reid’s presence, since wary rank-and-file members want firm assurances that the Senate will indeed pass a package of fixes to its health care legislation the House is expected to approve tomorrow.Reid’s office says he will release a letter showing he has at least the needed 50 votes to pass the fix package through budget reconciliation. (Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said on Fox News last night the debate in the Senate could start as early as Tuesday.)

The Rules hearing will go on most of the day as members plow through nearly 100 proposed amendments to the legislation. To break it down in simple terms, the rule they will approve by the end of the day will set the framework for debate on the final legislation tomorrow. They’ll decide how many hours the debate will last and how much time each side will have.

The Republicans will say the rule for debate is unfair – just as Democrats did when they were in the minority – but there is basically no chance the rule would fail. These are party line votes that mean the majority party rules.

The debate today in the hearing will be a less formal preview of the arguments you’ll hear tomorrow. For example, Rep. Henry Waxman declared in his testimony this is “The most important legislation since Medicare.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) complained that Democrats were using unprecedented, shady tactics by passing the bill through reconciliation. (More on that here.) He admitted the GOP used the same process when they were in power but protested, “we did but we did it for bills that had already passed the House.” He asked Democrats to go back to the drawing board and work with Republicans.

Rules Committee Chairwoman Rep. Louise Slaughter smiled from the dais when Barton finished speaking.

“I appreciate that you’re the bluebird of happiness, and think we could do this with sweetness and light,” she said. Slaughter (D-NY) said she would love to work with the GOP on the “most important” thing she’s done in her legislative career. “But we have to play the hand that’s dealt to us,” she said.

Late Update: Brian just filed this report that Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters there will be ‘no separate vote’ on abortion.

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