William L. Owens is expected to be sworn officially as the 23rd Congressional District's representative at noon today, just in time to help other House Democrats push through passage of President Obama's health care overhaul.
Mr. Owens, Plattsburgh, called the bill, which remodels the nation's health care system and extends coverage to millions of uninsured, "a historic movement forward."
"I think that it does many of the things that I thought needed to be done," he said Thursday during his first post-victory visit to Watertown. "There are some things that I'd like to see changed in the bill, so I'm going through the process of making sure that I have a full understanding before I make a final decision."
Mr. Owens did not elaborate during his brief media session on what aspects of the bill troubled him, but previously has said he'd like it to expand the number of small businesses that are exempt from the law.
Mr. Owens would not confirm his schedule today, but a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the swearing-in was tentatively scheduled for noon. President Barack Obama planned to meet briefly with the new congressman after the ceremony to congratulate him in person, according to Moira Mack, a White House spokeswoman.
As of late Thursday afternoon, the House clerk's office had not received written notification from the state Board of Elections confirming the election's outcome.
Mr. Owens led his Conservative Party challenger, Douglas L. Hoffman, by 3,770 votes as of Thursday afternoon, although more than 5,400 absentee ballots have yet to be counted. Mr. Hoffman conceded the race Tuesday.
But Mrs. Pelosi's office already had received what it considered unofficial certification to clear the way for Mr. Owens to be sworn in. A spokesman in the clerk's office said officials expected written certification by the end of the day Thursday.
Mr. Owens is one of two new House Democrats. Former California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi was sworn in Thursday to a Northern California congressional seat after telling fellow lawmakers he had campaigned for health care in his race.
Even without Mr. Owens's input, House Democratic leaders predicted swift passage of the health care bill during the vote, which will be held Saturday.
The House bill would cover 96 percent of Americans, providing government subsidies beginning in 2013 to extend coverage to millions who now lack it. Self-employed people and small businesses could buy coverage through the new exchanges, either from a private insurer or a new government plan that would compete. All of the plans sold through the exchange would have to follow basic consumer protection rules.
For the first time, almost all individuals would be required to purchase insurance or pay a fine, and employers would be required to insure their employees. Insurance companies would be barred from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions or charging much higher rates to older people.
Following Mr. Owens's Watertown lunch with supporters, he toured Fort Drum and met with Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, commanding general of the base and the 10th Mountain Division.
Mr. Owens appeared briefly at the start of a meeting of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, held in the afternoon at the division's headquarters.
"I'm ready to go," he told members and attendees, who included representatives of local government and the business community. "I just had a meeting with General Terry, and we'll be very focused on what's happening here. I want you to educate me on the issues that are happening in your community, and we'll work with you to get things done."
The Democrat said he hasn't heard from former Rep. John M. McHugh, now Army secretary, but he has talked to the House staff left behind to tend the former congressman's office files.
Mr. Owens said he did not know if he would receive any of Mr. McHugh's files, but added, "I'm anticipating we'll have his full cooperation."
He said he hasn't filled any position besides his chief of staff, which went to Bradley D. Katz, his campaign manager and a Putnam County native.
Times Washington correspondent Marc Heller, Times staff writer Joanna Richards and the Associated Press contributed to this report.