An all-out campaign was waged Thursday by US President Barack Obama to drive his historic health care overhaul through Congress, wooing wavering lawmakers and blasting "unacceptable" insurance rate hikes.
Waging an uphill fight for passage of his top domestic priority, Obama was to meet with 11 Democratic House members from the party's progressive wing and then with seven Democratic House centrists, his press office said.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted at her weekly press conference that Congress would ultimately approve the far-reaching legislation but warned that she was not taking any Democratic votes for granted.
"Every vote, every legislative vote is a heavy lift around here. You assume nothing, assume nothing in terms of where you were before and where people may be now," she told reporters.
Pelosi declined to set a timetable for a House vote, but White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told MSNBC television "we on scheduled to get something done before we leave" for Australia on March 18.
Obama was piling pressure on lawmakers to sign on to his strategy, which calls for the House to abandon the legislation it approved in November and pass the Senate's version, coupled with "fixes" to that bill.
"I therefore ask leaders in both houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule the vote in the next few weeks. From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform," he said Wednesday.
Looking to show that the White House is pressing all parties, Gibbs said on the micro-blogging site Twitter that Obama had walked into Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's talks with insurance company executives with a letter from a woman whose premiums will rise 40-percent next year.
"What the president said is this clearly is unsustainable and unacceptable," Sebelius told reporters after the talks, adding that the woman was a cancer survivor whose rates had already risen 25 percent this year.
Sebelius said she had asked the insurers to post top executives' salaries and advertising budgets on their web sides and to back up any rate increases with actuarial data supporting them.
Pelosi and the White House faced a challenge from an anti-abortion House Democrat who said he and his allies were prepared to kill the legislation unless it meets their demands to block funding for the procedure.
"I want to see health care, but we're not going to bypass some principles and beliefs and we feel strongly about," Representative Bart Stupak told ABC television.
Stupak voted for the House of Representatives version of the health care bill last year only after inserting tough language forbidding federal subsidies from going to health plans that offer the procedure.
And he has sharply criticized the Senate's version of the legislation for what he says are provisions that would lead to federal funding for abortions.
Obama's plan calls for the House to abandon the health care legislation it approved in November and pass the Senate's version, coupled with "fixes" to that bill to bring it more in line with the House bill.
Sebelius and Pelosi, asked about Stupak's warning, insisted that the final legislation would offer sufficient safeguards against government funding for abortion.
"This will not change the status quo on the policy of abortion. There will be no federal funding for abortions," Sebelius said on ABC television. "This isn't about an abortion debate. It's about health reform."
"There is no federally funded abortion. That is the law of the land. It has not changed in this bill. There is no change in the access to abortion, no more or no less," said Pelosi.