Moments before President Obama held a pep rally for House Democrats in the Capitol, Democratic leaders declared this afternoon they have secured at least the 216 votes needed to pass the healthcare overhaul Sunday.
"We're a day away!" the president proclaimed during a televised meeting with the House Democratic Caucus. "After a year of debate, after every argument has been made by just about everybody - we're 24 hours away."
Before the meeting with Obama, Democrats decided the House will take a direct vote on the Senate-passed overhaul bill instead of using what Republicans had termed the "Slaughter Solution," a parliamentary procedure considered by House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter.
"Clearly, we believe we have the votes," House Majority Leader Hoyer said.
Democrats were weighing using a procedure that would have avoided a direct vote by deeming the Senate bill passed when a rule is approved. Instead, the House will vote first on the rule, next on the reconciliation package that contains changes to the Senate bill and then the Senate measure.
"We want to make it absolutely clear that we are modifying the Senate bill," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., assistant to the speaker. The House parliamentarian has approved the order, Van Hollen added.
"I never thought it was realistic to begin with," House Minority Leader Boehner said of Democrats' dropped plan to deem the Senate bill passed. "Not only did it upset a lot of our members - it upset a lot of their members," he added.
As House Democrats emerged from a closed-door meeting Saturday afternoon in the Longworth House Office Building, many found themselves wading into a sea of protesters chanting "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" Capitol Police officers at one point warned they would empty the hallways, but that did little to quiet the crowd. No lawmakers appeared to be accosted physically, however.
But Majority Whip Clyburn later lashed out at what he and other members say were racial epithets hurled at them by some of the demonstrators. In addition, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., also found himself the target of hateful language.
"I've heard people saying things I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus," said Clyburn. "This was incredible. It was shocking to me."
"A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this, much of this, is not about health care at all. I think a lot of those people today demonstrated this is not about health care -- it's about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful," said Clyburn.
Hoyer also said he has seen a letter from Senate Majority Leader Reid signed by more than 50 Senate Democrats promising their vote on the reconciliation package.
Reid said he has a "significant majority of the United States Senate" for the reconciliation package. "We support an up-or-down majority vote and will vote to make these improvements in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," the Democratic senators wrote. Reid's office did not publicly release the names of those who signed the letter.
The House Rules Committee posted a manager's amendment that includes a provision sought by some of the final holdouts that attempts to relieve geographic disparities in Medicare payments. The panel this afternoon was still trying to hammer out a rule for the floor debate at a meeting expected to continue into the evening.
During the committee meeting, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., hailed the decision to have a direct vote on the Senate bill. Cardoza had been the only Democrat on the committee to come out against the "deem and pass" proposal.
"We've had sanity prevail and I am very pleased about that," Cardoza said. Earlier he said he believed that the "deem and pass" tactic was constitutional but added: "I just can't believe it is smart for us to pass something this monumental" in such a fashion.
Leaders also are trying to bring on board anti-abortion Democrats who are unhappy with the Senate language on federal funding of abortion by shopping the idea of an executive order to them that would clarify current law. The idea is one some anti-abortion Democrats are willing to consider.
"I need to see it and have an analysis how it would work," Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., said.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, also said, "It would depend on the content."
Clyburn said members were looking over the executive order language late this afternoon. "Seems to satisfy some," he said.