WASHINGTON — With the historic House vote on health care barely 48 hours away, battle lines hardened and rhetoric sharpened Thursday when thousands of anti-government protesters swarmed Capitol Hill to oppose Democrats' $1 trillion overhaul even as two powerful lobby groups for doctors and seniors endorsed the legislation.
"Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" chanted thousands of protesters outside the Capitol, some having traveled on short notice from as far as California and Texas to protest what they saw as tantamount to socialized medicine. "No Marx. No Mao," one protest sign read. "No socialized anything," read another.
Meanwhile, officials of the AARP and the American Medical Association publicly endorsed the Democrats' health care overhaul.
The endorsement by the AARP was prized because the seniors lobby is an electoral powerhouse and it has been skeptical of the Democrats' proposals to reduce spending on Medicare. The AMA's support was a marked turn-around for a group that played a leading role in stymieing past efforts to change health care.
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The public pressure from left and right provided a dramatic background for Democratic leaders' last-minute efforts to nail down a solid majority for their overhaul plan, which is now scheduled to be laid before the House for debate Saturday — with a vote expected later that day.
Dozens of House Republicans, including their top party leaders, appeared on the steps of the Capitol to address the crowd and denounce Obama and the health care bill.
"We are committed to making sure that not one Republican will vote for this bill," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., promised the crowd.
For their part, House Democrats pressed toward the expected Saturday vote, with President Obama slated to address the House Democratic Caucus today as part of the final push for votes.
No House Republican is expected to vote for the bill, so House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been laboring to nail down the 218 votes she needs from her own party's ranks to pass the bill.
Pelosi swore in Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., who won a special election Tuesday. Another special election winner, Democrat Bill Owens of New York, is to be sworn in today.