WASHINGTON — Nine House Democrats indicated in an Associated Press survey Monday they have not ruled out switching their "no" votes to "yes" on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, brightening the party's hopes in the face of unyielding Republican opposition.
The White House tried to smooth the way for them, showing its own openness to changes in the landmark legislation and making a point of saying the administration is not using parliamentary tricks or loopholes to find the needed support.
Democratic leaders have strongly signaled they will use a process known as "budget reconciliation" to try to push part of the package through the Senate without allowing Republicans to filibuster. The road could be even more difficult in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi is struggling to secure enough Democratic votes for approval, thus the effort to attract former foes.
The White House said Obama will outline his final "way forward" in a Washington speech Wednesday. He is expected to embrace a handful of Republican ideas for making health care more efficient.
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Few in Washington think those gestures will be enough to persuade a single House or Senate Republican to embrace the legislation. But they could give wavering Democrats political cover by showing the party has been willing to compromise.
The proposal would impose new restrictions on insurance companies and order health insurance coverage for as many as 30 million Americans who now lack it, among many other changes.
Persuading lawmakers to change their votes is a tough sell. Elected officials are loath to vote two ways on a controversial issue, feeling such a switch draws more resentment than support overall.
Democratic leaders stress that the legislative package soon to reach the House will be less expensive than the one that passed in November and will contain no government-run insurance program to compete with private insurers.
They hope those changes will give additional cover to party moderates thinking of switching from no to yes.
In interviews with the AP, at least nine of the 39 Democrats — or their spokesmen — either declined to state their positions or said they were undecided about the revised legislation, making them likely targets for intense wooing by Pelosi and Obama.
Three of them — Brian Baird of Washington, Bart Gordon of Tennessee and John Tanner of Tennessee — are not seeking re-election this fall.
The others are Rick Boucher of Virginia, Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Michael McMahon of New York, Scott Murphy of New York and Glenn Nye of Virginia. Several lawmakers' offices did not reply to the AP queries.
Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho will not change his vote from no, his spokesman, Dean Ferguson, said Monday night. Minnick had declined to state a position when contacted earlier by the AP.
Both parties have used the reconciliation strategy to pass big bills before, but Republicans call the health care push an unwarranted departure from standard practices.
Top Democrats are reminding colleagues and voters at home that the Senate already has passed its version of the health care bill on Christmas Eve with a super-majority of 60 votes, which squelched a GOP filibuster without resorting to reconciliation rules. The new plan calls for the House to pass that same bill and send it to Obama for his signature.
But that is contingent on a Senate promise to make several subsequent changes. Those would have to be approved under the special budget reconciliation rules, because Democrats now control only 59 of the Senate's 100 votes — one shy of the number needed to stop a bill-killing filibuster.
With four House seats now vacant, Pelosi would need 216 votes to approve the Senate-passed version. That's exactly the number she has now if no other members switch their votes.
But many lawmakers expect further defections, especially members who oppose legalized abortion and feel the Senate language is too permissive in regulating federal funds for those operations.
For every yes vote that switches to no, Pelosi and the White House must persuade one of the 39 Democrats who voted "nay" in November to switch to yes.