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End in sight, health care battle tilts Obama's way

WASHINGTON - One by one, Democratic fence-sitters began choosing sides Friday, and the long, turbulent struggle over landmark health care legislation tilted unmistakably in President Barack Obama's direction.

In full campaign mode, his voice rising, the president all but claimed victory, declaring to a cheering audience in Virginia, "We are going to fix health care in America." With the showdown vote set for Sunday in the House, Obama decided to make a final, personal appeal to rank-and-file Democrats, arranging a visit Saturday to the Capitol.

Republicans, unanimous in opposition to the bill, complained anew about its cost and reach.

Under a complex - and controversial - procedure the Democrats have devised, a single vote probably will be held to send one bill to Obama for his signature and to ship a second, fix-it measure to the Senate for final passage in the next several days.

Democratic leaders and Obama focused last-minute lobbying efforts on two separate groups of Democrats, 37 who voted against an earlier bill in the House and 40 who voted for it only after first making sure it would include strict abortion limits that now have been modified.

Reps. John Boccieri of Ohio and Allen Boyd and Suzanne Kosmas of Florida became the latest Democrats to announce support for the bill after voting against an earlier version that passed; that brought the number of switches to six.

But Rep. Michael Arcuri, of Utica, became the first Democratic former supporter to announce his intention to oppose the bill. Rep. Anh Cao of Louisiana, the only Republican to support the earlier measure, also has announced his opposition.

The historic legislation would extend coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans who lack it, forbid insurers to deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and cut federal deficits by an estimated $138 billion over a decade. Congressional analysts estimate the cost of the two bills combined at $940 billion over a decade.

Arcuri's announcement of opposition reaped a threat from his former allies at the Service Employees International Union, which vowed to try and unseat him in this fall's Democratic primary in favor of "someone who shares our progressive values."

Boccieri's decision to support the bill drew a tart response from the House Republican campaign committee, which issued a warning - "Ohio Dem Uses Press Conference to Announce End of Stint in Congress" - that predicted the first-term lawmaker's political demise.

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