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Live updates from Capitol Hill in the race to reform

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      Jon Ward

      Jon Ward covers the White House and national politics for The Daily Caller. He covered the last two years of George W. Bush's presidency and the first year of Barack Obama's presidency for The Washington Times. Prior to moving to national politics, Jon worked for the Times' city desk and bureaus in Virginia and Maryland, covering local news and politics, including the D.C. sniper shootings and subsequent trial, before moving to state politics in Maryland. He and his wife have two children and live on Capitol Hill. || <a href="mailto:jw@dailycaller.com">Email Jon</a>

BREAKING 4:05 P.M. – Bart Stupak just made his announcement.

“We have an agreement.”

Stupak said “there has been some question raised” about the executive order’s efficacy and force of law. He said abortions will not be paid for with federal funds at community health centers, and that the conscience clause will be upheld by the EO.

“The conscience clause will always be available and it will be the force of law,” Stupak said.

He is standing with Kaptur, Rahall and Mollohan. The latter two had not yet declared their votes. If they and Stupak are all yes votes, then Pelosi may still need one more vote. Unclear at the moment.

Stupak has not actually said he will vote for the bill, I believe. But that’s assumed.


BREAKING 4:01 P.M.
– The White House has just announced they’re issuing an executive order. Here is the full announcement:

STATEMENT FROM COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR DAN PFEIFFER

Today, the President announced that he will be issuing an executive order after the passage of the health insurance reform law that will reaffirm its consistency with longstanding restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion.

While the legislation as written maintains current law, the executive order provides additional safeguards to ensure that the status quo is upheld and enforced, and that the health care legislation’s restrictions against the public funding of abortions cannot be circumvented.

The President has said from the start that this health insurance reform should not be the forum to upset longstanding precedent. The health care legislation and this executive order are consistent with this principle.

The President is grateful for the tireless efforts of leaders on both sides of this issue to craft a consensus approach that allows the bill to move forward.

A text of the pending executive order follows:

EXECUTIVE ORDER

- – - – - – -

ENSURING ENFORCEMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF ABORTION RESTRICTIONS IN THE PATIENT PROTECTION AND AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (approved March __, 2010), I hereby order as follows:

Section 1. Policy.
Following the recent passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“the Act”), it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with a longstanding Federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment. The purpose of this Executive Order is to establish a comprehensive, government-wide set of policies and procedures to achieve this goal and to make certain that all relevant actors—Federal officials, state officials (including insurance regulators) and health care providers—are aware of their responsibilities, new and old.

The Act maintains current Hyde Amendment restrictions governing abortion policy and extends those restrictions to the newly-created health insurance exchanges. Under the Act, longstanding Federal laws to protect conscience (such as the Church Amendment, 42 U.S.C. §300a-7, and the Weldon Amendment, Pub. L. No. 111-8, §508(d)(1) (2009)) remain intact and new protections prohibit discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers because of an unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

Numerous executive agencies have a role in ensuring that these restrictions are enforced, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Section 2. Strict Compliance with Prohibitions on Abortion Funding in Health Insurance Exchanges. The Act specifically prohibits the use of tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments to pay for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered) in the health insurance exchanges that will be operational in 2014. The Act also imposes strict payment and accounting requirements to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services in exchange plans (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered) and requires state health insurance commissioners to ensure that exchange plan funds are segregated by insurance companies in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, OMB funds management circulars, and accounting guidance provided by the Government Accountability Office.

I hereby direct the Director of OMB and the Secretary of HHS to develop, within 180 days of the date of this Executive Order, a model set of segregation guidelines for state health insurance commissioners to use when determining whether exchange plans are complying with the Act’s segregation requirements, established in Section 1303 of the Act, for enrollees receiving Federal financial assistance. The guidelines shall also offer technical information that states should follow to conduct independent regular audits of insurance companies that participate in the health insurance exchanges. In developing these model guidelines, the Director of OMB and the Secretary of HHS shall consult with executive agencies and offices that have relevant expertise in accounting principles, including, but not limited to, the Department of the Treasury, and with the Government Accountability Office. Upon completion of those model guidelines, the Secretary of HHS should promptly initiate a rulemaking to issue regulations, which will have the force of law, to interpret the Act’s segregation requirements, and shall provide guidance to state health insurance commissioners on how to comply with the model guidelines.

Section 3. Community Health Center Program.
The Act establishes a new Community Health Center (CHC) Fund within HHS, which provides additional Federal funds for the community health center program. Existing law prohibits these centers from using federal funds to provide abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), as a result of both the Hyde Amendment and longstanding regulations containing the Hyde language. Under the Act, the Hyde language shall apply to the authorization and appropriations of funds for Community Health Centers under section 10503 and all other relevant provisions. I hereby direct the Secretary of HHS to ensure that program administrators and recipients of Federal funds are aware of and comply with the limitations on abortion services imposed on CHCs by existing law. Such actions should include, but are not limited to, updating Grant Policy Statements that accompany CHC grants and issuing new interpretive rules.

Section 4. General Provisions.
(a) Nothing in this Executive Order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect: (i) authority granted by law or presidential directive to an agency, or the head thereof; or (ii) functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This Executive Order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This Executive Order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity against the United States, its departments, agencies, entities, officers, employees or agents, or any other person.

THE WHITE HOUSE,

BREAKING 3:46 P.M. – Stupak and the White House have reached an agreement, according to Politico.

The White House and anti-abortion Democrats have reached an agreement to defusethe controversy over abortion in the health reform bill – planning a series of steps that will secure the support of Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and other Democrats to give party leaders the votes they need to pass reform, sources tell POLITICO.

Under the agreement, President Barack Obama would sign an executive order ensuring that no federal funding will go to pay for abortion under the health reform plans. In addition, Stupak will get to state his concerns about abortion funding in the bill during a colloquy on the House floor during the debate.

And then, Stupak and several other Democratic hold-outs over abortion will sign on to the bill, the sources said. The agreement would almost certainly give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the 216 votes she needs to secure an historic health reform vote by day’s end – capping a year-long drive to achieve Obama’s signature legislative goal.

BREAKING 3:38 P.M. – The Hill’s Molly Moore tells me Stupak was just on the House floor, talking to Diana DeGette, a leader of the pro-choice caucus, and that he was then talking to other pro-life Democrats, including Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who is already a yes, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Allan Mollohan of North Dakota, who are both still undeclared.

BREAKING 3:30 P.M. – Bart Stupak has announced a 4 p.m. press conference to announce his decision. You never know, but my guess is he’s decided to vote yes.

BREAKING 3:12 P.M. – Lincoln Davis of Tennessee is a no. He voted against in November.

That means, by my count, there are 12 undecided’s left, and Pelosi needs four of them to vote yes. Rick Boucher of Virginia is the only remaining undecided who’s not a pro-lifer. The pro-life group still undeclared are these.

MARION BERRY (ARK)
JERRY COSTELLO (IL)
KATHLEEN DAHLKEMPER (PA)
JOE DONNELLY (IND)
STEVE DRIEHAUS (OHIO)
PAUL KANJORSKI (PA)
DANIEL LIPINSKI (IL)
ALLAN MOLLOHAN (WV)
EARL POMEROY (ND)
NICK RAHALL (WV)
BART STUPAK (MI)

And it’s unclear whether a Stupak yes vote is a sure thing or whether it’s truly up in the air.

“There is no agreement,” Stupak told reporters, as reported by The Hill. “Until there is an agreement, I’m a ‘no’ vote.”

UPDATE 2:55 P.M. - Two more vote announcements.

John Tanner of Tennessee is a no.

Marcy Kaptur of Ohio is a yes.

Tanner voted against the bill in November. Kaptur voted it for it last time but had serious reservations over abortion language.

If Pomeroy is a yes, Pelosi now needs three votes. If not, she needs four.

The protesters have continued to keep up their chants. I’ll had back down to the Speaker’s lobby just off the House floor in a moment.

UPDATE 2:29 P.M. – It appears Democrats are closing in on getting 216 votes for health care reform.

Brian Baird of Washington is a yes (he voted no last time).

There are reports that Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota is a yes, but I haven’t yet confirmed that.

That would leave Pelosi with four votes to go.

And based on bits and pieces of information and rumors flying around, but mostly on my observation of Bart Stupak’s interaction with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the House floor (see below), it looks like the key Michigan Democrat will vote for it. If so, that would almost surely seal the deal for Dems.

Meanwhile, it’s a dramatic scene at the U.S. Capitol.

The House has begun debate on the health care bill. Technically, they are debating what’s known as the rule for the bill, which the House Rules Committee spent over 12 hours working on yesterday. Sorry, I’m informed they have not yet gotten to the rule. They were debating something called a “point of order” by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, which is an objection to a specific part of the bill.

Debate on the rule is next (1 hour). Then a motion to recommit at some point, which is a big vote, and then debate on the Senate bill and reconciliation (two hours scheduled for that). Then final votes.

Outside the Capitol, about a thousand protesters are gathered on the lawn just outside the House floor. There is a balcony just off the floor that looks down on the protesters, and Republican lawmakers have come out to cheer on the crowd.

Up on the third floor in the House press gallery where I’m working on occasion when I can sneak a moment to get back to my computer, the protesters can be heard loud and clear. They have been yelling different chants, mostly “Kill the Bill,” almost continuously for what seems like over an hour. They die down at moments, and then pick back up.

About an hour or so ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, and civil rights icon John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, walked across from their House offices to the Capitol, arm in arm in the manner of the civil rights demonstrations of the 60′s.

Pelosi held a gavel that Hoyer said had been used by John Dingell Sr., a Michigan Democrat, when Medicare passed in 1965.

With protesters yelling at them, and a smaller group of supporters cheering them on, the group of lawmakers walked across to the Capitol, surrounded by a throng of reporters, and up the steps into the chamber.

BREAKING 2:18 P.M. Here are my most recent tweets. You can follow me at twitter.com/jonward11

# Pence just told me the gop cheering for protester was “not appropriate” and GOP wil preserve rules of decorum 13 minutes ago via UberTwitter

Pence, King, McCarthy and other gopers are now out on balcony waving to the crowd 15 minutes ago via UberTwitter

I will write a description of Pelosi’s dramatic walk across to the capitol when I have chance to catch my breath 18 minutes ago via UberTwitter

That protester was escorted out by Capitol Police 23 minutes ago via UberTwitter

There are several hundred, maybe (on the high end) a thousand protesters below balcony just off House floor. 24 minutes ago via UberTwitter

Btw, I managed to ask John lewis if a racial slur was used against him yesterday. He nodded 25 minutes ago via UberTwitter

R’s Rob Bishop, Buck McKeon and Mike Turner were just on balcony holding signs: “Kill the bill” to protesters 26 minutes ago via UberTwitter

Republican lawmakers stood up and cheered for the protester 28 minutes ago via UberTwitter

Man just stood up in house gallery and yelled “Kill the bill. U r not listening to American people.” 28 minutes ago via UberTwitter

BREAKING 1:43 P.M. – If my observation of Steny Hoyer’s interaction with Bart Stupak just now on the House floor is any indication, Stupak looks very much like a yes.

Stupak walked over to Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania Democrat, the liaison between leadership and pro-life Democrats. Moments later, Hoyer walked over.

Hoyer asked a question, listened to Stupak talk for a few moments, and then gave a very animated and enthusiastic slap with his right hand on the Stupak’s left arm. Hoyer, smiling and nodding, patted him on the shoulder, and then put his hand on the back of Stupak’s neck.

After a few more moments of conversation, Hoyer slapped Doyle on the back, gave a thumbs up and walked away.

UPDATE 12:55 P.M. – As the House prepared to convene at 1 PM, a few hundred protesters converged at the intersection of Capitol Plaza and Independence Avenue, where lawmakers have to cross over from their office buildings to the Capitol.

There was a group of about 50 to 100 pro-healthcare demonstrators among them chanting, “Health care now!” The rest of the crowd was chanting “Kill the bill.”

There is a larger protest of several hundred or maybe a few thousand (I haven’t got a good look) down on the west lawn of the Capitol.

UPDATE 12:14 P.M. – Majority Whip James Clyburn said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” this morning that he was with Bart Stupak, who is currently looking at executive order language at the Capitol (see below), late Saturday night talking about his vote. There are also rumors that Stupak was at the White House last night, which I have not been able to confirm but am trying to.

Here’s what Clyburn said about getting the votes needed to pass President Obama’s health care plan:

“I don’t think it’s quite settled yet, but I think it will be by late afternoon. Bart Stupak and I spent a lot of time together last evening. I’ve seen him on one of the networks this morning saying that we are very, very close. And I think that we’ll be there by the time that we vote. And I fully expect that we’ll get the votes that are necessary.”

UPDATE 12:08 P.M. – The Capitol has been reopened after Capitol Police had shut it down earlier due to a suspicious package.

BREAKING 11:22 A.M. - I sat down to brunch this morning around 10:15 at Matchbox on Barracks Row. I looked up and saw Bart Stupak walking out on his cell phone. A few moments later he walked back in and sat down at a table of six men, one of them Rep. Mike Doyle, who has been a middle man between pro-life Democrats and Speaker Pelosi.

A few minutes later, House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson walked in with an aide and sat down at their table, at the other end from Stupak.

Doyle walked out on his cell phone a few minutes after that. Then Larson did the same. I could hear him telling someone who he was there with.

Around 10:45, Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter walked by and said hello, then walked out with two younger people wearing casual clothes.

I caught Stupak on his way out and asked him if there was any progress on moving toward voting for the bill.

“Yup. We’re going back right now to look at some of the language,” he said.

“For the executive order?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Are you leaning toward voting for it?” I asked.

“We’ll see,” he said.

BREAKING 10:09 A.M. - The House side of the Capitol has been shut down by Capitol police because of a suspicious package.

BREAKING 9:20 A.M. - House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson claims that Democrats have clinched the vote, Mike Allen reports.

ABC’s Jon Karl asked him on “This Week”: “Let me pin you down. … You have 216 [votes] committed now?”

Larson responded: “Yes … We have the votes now, as we speak.”

But Larson was contradicted by two other Democratic leaders.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “We’re going to have 216 votes,” according to Fox News’ Major Garrett.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida Democrat, said Democrats “don’t have a hard 216 right now,” also according to Garrett.

SUNDAY, MARCH 21 – UPDATE 9:15 A.M. – I saw this last night and had a hard time believing it. But Roll Call is reporting that Loretta Sanchez, California Democrat, is possibly going to vote against the bill. I’ll believe that when I see it.

UPDATE 11:03 P.M. – President Obama’s speech Saturday was a unique one. For starters, he apparently spoke without prepared text or teleprompters. And during the last portion of it, he made a very personal appeal to lawmakers, appealing to them on the core grounds of traditional liberalism, of helping those who are worse off.

But beyond even that, Obama seemed to be offering or promising almost a chance at redemption. He talked to the group of politicians about regrets accumulated over the course of a career, and spoke of the vote on health care as an opportunity to make things right.

You can read the entire speech here, but I’ve pasted below the close of the speech:

Sometimes I think about how I got involved in politics. I didn’t think of myself as a potential politician when I get out of college. I went to work in neighborhoods, working with Catholic churches in poor neighborhoods in Chicago, trying to figure out how people could get a little bit of help. And I was skeptical about politics and politicians, just like a lot of Americans are skeptical about politics and politicians are right now. Because my working assumption was when push comes to shove, all too often folks in elected office, they’re looking for themselves and not looking out for the folks who put them there; that there are too many compromises; that the special interests have too much power; they just got too much clout; there’s too much big money washing around.

And I decided finally to get involved because I realized if I wasn’t willing to step up and be true to the things I believe in, then the system wouldn’t change. Every single one of you had that same kind of moment at the beginning of your careers. Maybe it was just listening to stories in your neighborhood about what was happening to people who’d been laid off of work. Maybe it was your own family experience, somebody got sick and didn’t have health care and you said something should change.

Something inspired you to get involved, and something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican. Because somewhere deep in your heart you said to yourself, I believe in an America in which we don’t just look out for ourselves, that we don’t just tell people you’re on your own, that we are proud of our individualism, we are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of neighborliness and a sense of community — (applause) — and we are willing to look out for one another and help people who are vulnerable and help people who are down on their luck and give them a pathway to success and give them a ladder into the middle class. That’s why you decided to run. (Applause.)

And now a lot of us have been here a while and everybody here has taken their lumps and their bruises. And it turns out people have had to make compromises, and you’ve been away from families for a long time and you’ve missed special events for your kids sometimes. And maybe there have been times where you asked yourself, why did I ever get involved in politics in the first place? And maybe things can’t change after all. And when you do something courageous, it turns out sometimes you may be attacked. And sometimes the very people you thought you were trying to help may be angry at you and shout at you. And you say to yourself, maybe that thing that I started with has been lost.

But you know what? Every once in a while, every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made in all those town meetings and all those constituency breakfasts and all that traveling through the district, all those people who you looked in the eye and you said, you know what, you’re right, the system is not working for you and I’m going to make it a little bit better.

And this is one of those moments. This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is exactly why I came here. This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service. This is why I’ve made those sacrifices. Because I believe so deeply in this country and I believe so deeply in this democracy and I’m willing to stand up even when it’s hard, even when it’s tough.

Every single one of you have made that promise not just to your constituents but to yourself. And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine. We have been debating health care for decades. It has now been debated for a year. It is in your hands. It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow.

Thank you very much, House of Representatives. Let’s get this done.

UPDATE 10:40 P.M. – So here’s where we stand on the votes, from my best attempt at a count. There are 16 undecided votes still out there, all of them Democrats. I’ve listed them below.

It looks like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is at 210 and needs six out of 16 votes to get to 216. The New York Times has a nifty graphic with details on each of these 16.

Here are her targets. The dozen previous yes votes are all pro-lifers.

PREVIOUS NO VOTES
BRIAN BAIRD (WA)
RICK BOUCHER (VA)
LINCOLN DAVIS (TENN)
JOHN TANNER (TENN)

PREVIOUS YES VOTES
JERRY COSTELLO (IL)
KATHLEEN DAHLKEMPER (PA)
JOE DONNELLY (IND)
STEVE DRIEHAUS (OHIO)
PAUL KANJORSKI (PA)
MARCY KAPTUR (OHIO)
DANIEL LIPINSKI (IL)
ALLAN MOLLOHAN (WV)
EARL POMEROY (ND)
NICK RAHALL (WV)
BART STUPAK (MI)

BREAKING 10:16 P.M. – Glenn Nye, Virginia Democrat, will not vote for the health care bill. He voted against it last time. This takes the number of former no votes who are currently undecided down to four: Brian Baird of Washington, Rick Boucher of Virginia, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee and John Tanner of Tennessee.

Here is what Nye’s office just sent out:

Nye To Vote No On Health Care Bill

Washington, DC – Citing potential problems for TRICARE recipients, the cost of the bill, and cuts to children’s hospitals, Congressman Glenn Nye announced this evening that he will vote against adopting the health care proposal under consideration in the House of Representatives.

“Over the past year, I have spoken with countless small business owners, families, medical professionals, and average citizens across Virginia’s 2nd District, and it became very clear that this bill was not the right solution for Virginia’s health care challenges,” said Congressman Nye. “There were many strong points in this bill that I would have been happy to support individually, but the package as a whole had serious problems.”

The original version of legislation in the House had specifically exempted TRICARE from being affected. However, when the final bill language was released on Thursday afternoon, it was revealed that neither the Senate bill nor the reconciliation package contained an exemption for TRICARE.

“Our military families need to be able to count on their health care benefits, and I am not willing to risk negative consequences for our military personnel and their families, particularly at a time when our troops are serving overseas in harm’s way,” said Nye.

Nye also expressed concerns about the potential for severe cuts to children’s hospitals, including the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk. The House version of the health care legislation, which Nye opposed last November, would have resulted in a $10 billion annual cut in funding to children’s hospitals. Rather than addressing this problem, the final package actually increased the cuts to $16 billion.

“This bill did not fix the key flaws with the original health care bill, including devastating funding cuts for CHKD in Norfolk and I am not convinced it will effectively reduce the cost of health care for families and small businesses,” said Congressman Nye.

Despite his opposition to the legislation, Nye reiterated that he is committed to passing meaningful reforms of the health care system.

“There are commonsense steps that we can take right now to make a real difference for Americans: repealing the antitrust exemption for health insurance companies, creating a high-risk pool for people with preexisting conditions, establishing an exchange that allows families and small businesses to have more choices, and cracking down on fraud and abuse,” Nye said.

“I know there are some people who will be disappointed with my vote, but I believe that I have a firm duty to vote my conscience and represent the best interests of my district. As much as we need health care reform, we also have an obligation to enact responsible changes for the American people, and to restore their trust in government,” Nye concluded.

BREAKING 9:20 P.M. – I’m still at the Capitol and trying to get a sense of where Democrats are on votes. But it doesn’t appear that they’ve yet locked this thing down. Will add more later, hopefully soon.

Also, there were reports that Steny Hoyer said earlier Saturday that the House would vote on reconciliation first Sunday, and then on the Senate bill. This isn’t really all that big of a deal but apparently some Democrats wanted to vote in that order to symbolize their preference for the reconciliation legislation over the Senate bill.

But I’ve confirmed with House leadership aides that the House will vote on the Senate bill first, and then the reconciliation legislation.

Also, there will be roughly three hours of debate Sunday. There will likely be seven votes in all Sunday, one for the Senate bill, one for the reconciliation bill, and five others on procedural matters.

The House convenes at 1 p.m. and rumor is if all goes according to plan they’ll be done by 6 or 7 p.m.

BREAKING 7:00 P.M. – I thought the protesters were gone. Actually they had just moved to the east front of the Capitol.

I’m sitting on the front steps of the Capitol. There are a few thousand protesters in front of me, who are very loud and very passionate.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican, was the first lawmaker to come out and speak with a megaphone, after the crowd had been out here for a while chanting.

“We’re not only going to vote no. We’re gonna vote hell no!” he said.

Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, told the crowd that the House Rules Committee, which is still in session on the third floor facing the crowd, was being disturbed by the crowd. You can imagine the response to that. Loud.

One of the interesting things was that the crowd response to different lines from Rep. Steve King, when talking about the things they don’t like about the health care bill or big government, was ear-splitting.

But when King said there will be “a reckoning in November and we’re going to have a clean sweep,” there was applause but it was light.

I happened to be standing by King before he spoke to the crowd. He was approached by a 55-year old Russian immigrant named Olga Brenner, who had tears in her eyes as she told King she fears the U.S. is headed the wrong direction. I have video of her exchange with King from my phone and will get that up soon.

I asked Olga why she thought the bill was bad, she said “it’s not a cliche, it really is a government takeover of health care.”

“I thought I ran away from government dictatorship,” she said.

“When people have freedom it’s like air, you don’t remember, you don’t think about it. But when it’s not like air you begin to—you feel it … When there is lack of it, of freedom, it’s suffocating,” she said.

“I know what it is, and you won’t believe how recognizable it is. This is what I hear all my life, the same speeches, good intentions, it’s demagoguery but top-level propaganda. I’ve heard it all my life. And people live in misery.”

When I asked for Olga’s last name, she hesitated, explaining that she was conditioned by living in the former Soviet Union.

“I understand,” I said.

She responded: “You don’t understand. You don’t understand what it is and where it is going.”

BREAKING 5:42 P.M. – I walked by the Rules Committee hearing room (which is right across the hall from the House press gallery where I’ve been working out of) just as some lawmakers were walking out (earlier I said the hearing was breaking up – that was wrong).

I asked Henry Waxman, the California Democrat, who the final yes votes would be. He said he should probably not answer that.

I then talked to Paul Ryan, who looked exhausted. Ryan is one of the few Republican lawmakers still trying to make a case against the bill even though most people at this point are only focused on whether Democrats will have the votes to pass it. But Ryan got some of the Democrats on the Rules Committee pretty riled up today during debate.

I asked him if he was frustrated that the bill looked poised to pass Sunday.

“I think it’s a big, big mistake to put this into law. I mean I really do. So that’s frustrating. This is the biggest social policy in 40 years. I think it’s going to be a fiscal explosion and nightmare. I think it’s going to hurt the economy. And we could have done a better job. So yeah, that’s frustrating,” he said.

“Its ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I just think people are living in a fantasy world if they think that this can be afforded, if they don’t think that this will lead to systematic rationing of health care,” Ryan said.

He mentioned that he was surprised that Democrats had managed to get this far, after looking down and out in January after the loss of Ted Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts.

“I think they’ve just kept their Democrats in a cocoon in Washington and they’re just pounding them with reinforcing messages, and they’re not stepping outside of this town and just looking at the big picture, and just looking at reality. And I think they’re gonna really regret doing this,” he said.

And he added one shot at Blue Dog Democrats who voted against the bill in November but who have flipped to support it.

“Blue Dogs don’t exist any more, as far as I’m concerned. They don’t exist anymore,” he said. “Nobody who calls themselves a Blue Dog and votes for this can ever call themselves a Blue Dog Democrat ever again.”

BREAKING 5:20 P.M. – There are reports that Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement from Georgia, was called a nigger, and that Rep. Barney Frank, a homosexual Democrat from Massachusetts, was called a faggot, by protesters today.

I saw Frank in the halls just now and asked him about it. He was very nonchalant and did not seem upset, although I’ve heard from eyewitnesses that he looked pretty angry when someone yelled the epithet at him in the Longworth Office Building.

“I’m disappointed that the leadership on the Republican conservative side isn’t going to disassociate itself from this kind of mob mentality. I think they think they can benefit from it. They don’t do it directly. Well, Michele Bachmann eggs people on, but it’s just disappointing,” Frank said.

“John Lewis said he felt like it was 50 years ago.”

Frank said that people told him, “you should quit, you should quit, we’re going to defeat you.”

Then he joked: “At some point I’m going to retire, and as long as I think it might make some of those people happy, I can never retire. I’m going to have to work forever, as long as they’re out there.”

BREAKING 4:55 p.m. – As I left Obama’s speech, I arrived back on the third floor of the Capitol, where the House press gallery is, and heard loud chanting outside the windows. I looked out and saw a crowd of a few thousand protesters who had broken off from the main protest on the east lawn of the Capitol and come up to the lawn just outside the south front of the Capitol, pretty close to where the House chamber is.

The crowd, which has just begun to break up, was very loud for at more than an hour, chanting in unison several different refrains: “Kill the bill!” “Shame on you” and one or two others. At one point, they sang the chorus from the famous Steam song: “Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye.”

Votes in the House had ended by the time I got outside, but there were one or two lawmakers who came out on the balcony to look down on the protesters. I caught up with one of them inside.

“They’ve worked themselves into a lather,” said Rep. John Garamendi, California Democrat, who stood out on the balcony for a few minutes.

“Unfortunately they don’t know or care what’s in the legislation. Most of what I’ve heard has nothing to do with the legislation,” he said.

I remarked that the protesters were very spirited, and Garamendi replied, “not nearly as spirited as I am to pass this bill.”

“I’ve been working on this for 35 years,” he said.

I’m told by other journalists that while I was at the president’s speech, Republican lawmakers were going out to the balcony and encouraging the crowd.

BREAKING 4:45  p.m.- Obama admitted the bill lacked lots of things that lots of lawmakers wanted, but said it is still “the single most important step on health care that we have taken since Medicare.”

“I still know this is a tough vote,” he said.

With that, Obama began pitching to House Dems who are still undecided or opposed (Brian Baird of Washington told me he’s undecided and Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, who is opposed, is here).

“If you think that the system is working … then you should vote no,” he said.

But Obama made a prediction that will be replayed many times between now and November: “I am actually confident that it will turn out to be the smart thing to do politically.”

Obama mentioned his conversations with two Dems who flipped from no to yes: Betsy Markey of Colorado and John Boccieri of Ohio, acknowledging that Boccieri is in “as tough a district as there is.”

“I look at him with pride,” Obama said

“I can’t guarantee that this is good politics.”

Obama also gave a pretty personalized talk about how politics can be a rough business but that “this is one of those timed you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is why I came here. This is why I got into politics.”

Obama closed with the Lincoln quote again, then told the lawmakers: “It is in your hands … I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow.”

On his way out, Obama saw Rosa DeLauro and said, “Rosa, get this done.”

BREAKING 4:07 p.m. - Hoyer, introducing Obama, promised to pass the bill.

“On Sunday, tomorrow, we will do it,” Hoyer said.

Obama spoke next, beginning with a Lincoln quote: “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.”

“This debate has been a difficult debate. This process has been a difficult process,” he said.

Obama said the House, by taking on a number of tough votes in the last year, has lived up to Lincoln’s quote.

“We’re a day away,” Obama said, referring to health care reform.

Obama said that once the bill is law, “its gonna be a little harder to micharacterize what this effort has been all about.”

And with that, Obama launched into a list of all the benefits that will kick in immediately, which will be the mantra that all Democrats in competitive races this fall will use as their main talking points.

He then talked in broader terms about the bill’s accomplishments, stuff that won’t kick in until 2014, things like the exchanges.

BREAKING 3:54 p.m. - Obama arrived to speak House Democrats and was greeted with a roughly 60 second standing ovation.

The president looked happy, but not necessarily exuberant.

David Axelrod, the president’s adviser, and Phil Schiliro, the president’s head of legislative affairs, watched from the wings.

John Larson introduced Pelosi, who touted the fact that their legislation will provide “affordable, accessible healthcare for all Americans.”

Democratic leaders now are speaking about the health care bill almost as if its already passed.

“We are on the verge of making great history,” Pelosi said.

As she thanked Obama for his leadership, Obama sat looking somewhat pensive, hand in chin.

Harry Reid, using a March Madness metaphor, said Democrats are “in the last minute of play” and Republicans are trying to foul them from keeping the clock from running out.

Somewhat out of order, Steny Hoyer spoke next.

“Some would say this is a partisan effort. They’re wrong,” Hoyer said, arguing that their effort is “on behalf of all Americans.”

BREAKING 3:49 p.m. - Rep John Larson, chair of the Democratic Caucus, spoke to House Dems before President Obama arrived.

The mood was fairly celebratory, as the sense here on Capitol Hill is that Democrats are very close to locking down the votes they need to pass health care reform, if they haven’t already.

Larson said there will be a vote on the rule tomorrow at 2 pm, then an hour of debate on the rule, and then two hours of debate on the bill itself, and then votes on the reconciliation bill and the Senate bill.

“Tomorrow we will do what no other Congress has been able to do,” Larson said, promising that the bill will be law by Sunday evening.

Larson also said: “Let us pray for our colleagues on the other side in the hope that they see the light.”

BREAKING 3:24 p.m. - I’m in the Congressional Auditorium waiting for President Obama to speak to Democratic members of Congress.

Many members of the Cabinet are here milling around. Peter Orszag, Ray Lahood, Kathleen Sebelius, Tom Vilsack, Arne Duncan, Gary Locke, Ken Salazar, and maybe one or two others. Besides a few of us reporters and about 30 staff in the back, the Cabinet secretaries are the only ones in the room (its a big room). Dem pollster Stan Greenberg is also here.

I asked Sebelius about the executive order and she said she didn’t know anything about it.

So then I debated Lahood about his texting while driving initiative, and was surprised to find out he wants to ban talking on the phone in the car even if you’re using a hands-free device. He said he’s looking into mandating that cars are made so that cell phones are automatically turned off when you get behind the wheel.

I told Lahood I didn’t think that one would fly. I asked Lahood what the difference is between talking on a hands free device (which he compared to drunk driving) and talking to a passenger in the car. He responded by telling me my mind was made up so he wouldn’t be able to persuade me.

Dem lawmakers are now filing in and they’re testing a video on the large screen that can be labeled only as a cheerleading spot, with lots of appeals to the historic nature of the legislation they’re about to pass.

BREAKING 2:59 p.m. - I ran into Rep Artur Davis earlier. He’s an Alabama Democrat running for governor in his home state, and he’s a firm no on health care.

Nobody is paying him much attention because he’s been solidly against it, but I thought I’d ask him what his sense of the votes was.

He said there is an “overwhelming expectation that the bill will be passed tomorow.”

“This will be a close vote but you don’t get the sense that at the end of the day this is not a vote that is going to go against leadership,” he said.

He said the vote for TARP in 2008 was more uncertain.

The talks with pro-life Democrats, he said, is partly just about getting a “cushion” so they don’t just pass it by one or two votes, putting one or two lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of being the deciding vote.

BREAKING 2:42 p.m. - Democrats will scrap the ‘deem-and-pass’ / ‘Slaughter solution’ and will hold separate votes on health care reform, according to a democratic aide.

BREAKING 1:54 p.m. – Slightly surreal moment. Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn, Van Hollen and Slaughter were huddled in the Speaker’s office just off the floor. Plain clothes security preparing to take Pelosi up the elevator. The door opens, and I’m able to see Pelosi huddled with an aide, listening intently.

Hoyer breaks out another door. I run up, stick my mic in his face along with 15 or so other reporters. But I’m in front, in good position. As we walk toward the doors of the Capitol, we pass the elevators.

An elevator opens. Inside, alone, is Tom Delay. He is wearing slacks and a blue dress shirt, collar open, no tie. He looks at the throng of reporters surrounding the man who now holds the position he once held.

Hoyer and throng move on out the doors. The elevator doors close.

BREAKING 1:35 p.m. – Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on his way out of the Capitol that he does not know for certain that the executive order will be issued but confirmed also that it is being discussed.

“The intent is obviously to express what we have said all along, that we believe the language that has been included in both bills seeks to accomplish, and that is that there will no use of public funds for abortion,” he said.

Walking out the east front of the Capitol, the throng of reporters surrounding Hoyer began to come close to gaggles of protesters standing around the Capitol (most of the protesters are on the other side).

Aides told Hoyer he should get into a black government SUV that pulled up, as protesters yelled at the majority leader.

“Listen to your constituents,” one man said.

“You’re a liar!” another man yelled

“He better get in that car,” another woman said.

BREAKING 1:16 p.m. – Speaker Pelosi and Democratic leadership are huddling in a meeting off the House floor, and pro-choice lawmakers say the detente with pro-life Democrats is over.

But Pelosi has said that President Obama might issue an executive order to clarify abortion language, a spokesman told The Daily Caller.

BREAKING 12:04 p.m. - Henry Waxman, a senior House Democrat from California who is chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, just voiced disagreement with the “Slaughter solution,” the procedure by which Democrats would pass the Senate health care bill without a direct vote on it.

Reports from those watching the hearing are conflicting as to what, exactly he said.

Byron York quotes Waxman as saying, “We’re not going to ‘deem’ the bill passed. We’re going to pass the Senate bill…I would be against the idea of ‘deeming’ something.”

The American Spectator’s Philip Klein has Waxman saying, “I would be against the idea of deeming something. We either pass it, or we don’t pass it.”

Waxman may have said both.

BREAKING 11:32 a.m. – The House Rules Committee is currently in session, debating the health bill. Here are the basics on what they’re doing.

They are up to 104 or 105 amendments, staffers just told me. Not all of them will be debated, but all of them will be voted on. But there can be votes on blocs of amendments.

The hearing will last around six to eight hours, according to staffers. The rules hearing in November prior to the vote to the health bill then went even longer.

The key item, though, is the manager’s amendment, which will include all the changes that Democratic leadership actually wants made to the bill. That’s the thing that Republicans are looking at for last-minute changes to the bill, especially “sweeteners” to woo (some would say buy) undecided voters.

Democrats spent more than 30 minutes, however, debating Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, on the merits of his plan.

The debate was pretty testy at moments.

Ryan said his plan “is still an entitlement” but “is done in a way that is sustainable.”

When Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat, began to criticize Ryan’s plan, he shot back, “I can tell you don’t understand it accurately.”

Slaughter responded that Ryan’s plan “verges on cruelty.”

Finally, several Democrats, including Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, asked them to move on to debating the actual bill that the House plans to vote on Sunday.

BREAKING 10:45 a.m. – Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who has caused a stir with a last-minute attempt to change the abortion language in the health care bill, has postponed a press conference that was scheduled for 11 a.m.

No time has been given for when it will happen.

It’s a sign that negotiations between Stupak, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the pro-choice caucus have not been resolved. For more on that, read our story from last night.

BREAKING 10:30 a.m. – There are a few thousand (probably 2,000 to 3,000) protesters on the west lawn of the Capitol. A speaker on the stage is instructing them on which Congressional buildings are which, so they can go and deliver letters and signatures. And the speaker also instructed the crowd not to engage with anti-war protesters that they expect to be out today.