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House Democrat: Not enough votes to pass health bill

WASHINGTON - The House's chief Democratic headcounter said yesterday he hadn't rounded up enough votes to pass President Barack Obama's health care overhaul heading into a make-or-break week, even as the White House's top political adviser said he was "absolutely confident" in its prospects.

The administration gave signs of retreating on its demands that senators jettison special home-state deals that have angered the public.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted House passage this week, before Obama travels to Asia, a trip he postponed to push for the bill.

"This is the week where we will have this important vote," Gibbs said. "I do think this is the climactic week for health care reform." And strategist David Axelrod said Democrats will persuade enough lawmakers to vote "yes."

The House GOP leader, Ohio's John Boehner, on CNN's "State of the Union," took up the challenge, acknowledging that Republicans alone can't stop the measure but pledging to do "everything we can to make it difficult for them, if not impossible, to pass the bill." Republicans believe they might get help from Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns.

Axelrod said it will be a struggle, taking aim at insurance industry lobbyists who "have landed on Capitol Hill like locusts" and Republicans who see being on the losing side of the vote as a political victory.

A dose of reality came from South Carolina's James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat and main vote counter. "No, we don't have them as of this morning, but we've been working this thing all weekend," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." He said he was confident the measure would pass, echoing comments Saturday from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Axelrod, taking a new position, said the White House objects only to state-specific arrangements, such as an increase in Medicaid funding for Nebraska, ridiculed as the "Cornhusker Kickback." That's being cut, but provisions that could affect more than one state are OK, Axelrod said.

Trying to increase public pressure on Congress, Obama planned to travel today to Strongsville, Ohio, home of cancer patient Natoma Canfield, a self-employed cleaning worker who has said she gave up her health insurance premium after it rose to $8,500 a year.

Boehner said Democrats never made a serious attempt to incorporate GOP ideas in the measure, saying they took only "a couple of Republican bread crumbs and put them on top of their 2,700-page bill."

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