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OWENS UNDER PRESSURE ON VOTE

TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
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WASHINGTON — Rep. William L. Owens came under growing pressure on health care reform legislation Tuesday as part of a shrinking number of undecided votes in the House. He gave no indication whether he would support the contentious proposal.


In remaining undecided, Mr. Owens was among a handful of lawmakers gaining the attention of the White House, where President Obama was making congressional calls ahead of a House vote later this week, as well as the attention of interest groups on each side of the issue.


Until a bill is formally introduced — probably today — Mr. Owens isn't prepared to say how he would vote, said his spokesman, Sean Magers.


However, he said, the congressman remains focused on whether the legislation encourages or discourages small businesses to add employees and whether Medicaid expenses climb significantly in New York, as Gov. David A. Paterson has warned.


In addition, Mr. Owens met at his request last week with Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Care Reform, to discuss aspects of President Obama's latest proposal to Congress, Mr. Magers said. The president offered his own suggestions for the compromise measure, called a reconciliation bill, that will resolve differences between the House and Senate and allow the Senate to pass it with a simple majority, free of any filibuster threat.


Mr. Obama planned to continue reaching out to lawmakers, although he planned no visits to Capitol Hill as of Tuesday afternoon, White House officials said.


Democratic leaders have said they are confident they can collect the necessary votes, even while they drop an abortion restriction insisted upon by a handful of conservative Democrats. But as of Tuesday afternoon, they gave no indication they actually had secured a majority in the House.


Two other upstate New York lawmakers, Reps. Michael A. Arcuri, D-Utica, and Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, also remained undecided. Rep. Daniel Maffei, D-Syracuse, came out in favor of the legislation Tuesday morning.


Ms. DeParle told reporters in a White House briefing Tuesday that unlike the previous House deliberations on health care late last year, this year's discussions appear to be more solidly grounded in the details of the proposal.


White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the pitch to undecided lawmakers is, "We know what happens if health care reform is not passed" — that being higher insurance rates, insurance that the middle class struggles to afford and millions of people without health insurance.


"We know what happens, and it needs to be fixed," Mr. Pfeiffer said.


He said candidates running for re-election this year could make a "very compelling" argument that they pushed through elements of the bill that are popular with the public.


Labor unions, a key constituency in Northern New York, were still pushing for changes in the bill Tuesday, including softening the impact of any excise taxes on middle-income families and protecting employer-provided health insurance. But some unions were threatening to withhold support from Democrats who vote against it.


Meanwhile, Mr. Owens faced pressure from the other side as well.


Americans for Limited Government, a group opposed to the reform package, released a poll indicating that 52 percent of political independents in the 23rd Congressional District would vote against Mr. Owens this fall if he votes for the bill. The poll of 400 likely voters was conducted for the group by Pulse Opinion Research, based on the robo-call techniques of Rasmussen Reports, a conservative-leaning but independent polling company that has been credited with especially accurate polls in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

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