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Democrats, Republicans bicker over health vote

WASHINGTON - Democrats defended plans to push massive health care legislation through the House without a direct vote and Republicans assailed the strategy yesterday, as both parties fenced ferociously over the health overhaul end game.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said no final decision had been made on the complex parliamentary strategy, which would allow House Democrats to pass the Senate's health care legislation without voting on the bill itself. Instead House members, who dislike the Senate bill, would vote on a rule for debate that would deem the bill passed once a smaller package of fixes also had passed.

Hoyer defended the austere procedure, noting that it had been used in the past by both parties, and more often by Republicans, and that regardless of the approach, the House would be passing the Senate legislation.

"We're playing it straight," Hoyer said. "We will vote on it in one form or another."

The Maryland Democrat also said the public didn't care about process but about results, and that the approach Democrats are weighing would result in enactment of President Barack Obama's landmark legislation to extend coverage to tens of millions of uninsured and create new insurance market protections for nearly everybody else.

At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs refused to say whether Obama supported the maneuver. Gibbs repeatedly returned to the notion of a vote during his daily meeting with reporters.

"There's going to be a vote on health care reform. You're going to know where people are on health care," Gibbs said.

With the House aiming to cast the decisive votes by the weekend, Republicans ramped up their attacks.

"Anyone who endorses this strategy will be forever remembered for trying to claim they didn't vote for something they did," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said yesterday.

The back-and-forth came as a couple hundred tea party activists descended on Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and voice opposition to the legislation. Protesters carried signs that read, "God heals, Obamacare steals," at a rally with Republican lawmakers.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) urged activists to make phone calls, send e-mails and go to congressional district offices by the carload to stop the health care measure from being passed.

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