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Obama Points To Bill Owens To Pitch Health Care Reform

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Hoping to pull together the needed Democratic support to get health care reform through the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama urged members to look at the results of New York's special congressional election for inspiration.

The president, according to a senior Democratic aide who attended his discussion, told House Dems that newly-elected Rep. Bill Owens proved that members could run on a platform of comprehensive reform and still be elected to Congress.

"He said to look at Bill Owens," the aide recalled. "There is a House seat that's been in Republican hands for more than one hundred years. But Owens didn't run away from reform. He campaigned on it. And he still got elected."

The remarks were part of a broader political push on the president's behalf to buck up recalcitrant Democrats nervous about backing health care legislation. Obama also told members that they shouldn't expect simply not to be attacked by Republicans if they voted against the reform package.

"He certainly talked about the politics and he said that the Republicans want us to fail and no one should feel if they as a Democrat helped us to fail that they would be [free of their attacks]," said Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

House aides said they believe the president helped persuade a handful of fence-sitting Democrats to support the bill. Though they cautioned that the whip count was fluid, especially as the House considers an amendment to tighten restrictions on the coverage of abortion by insurers.

One strategist off the Hill, who is plugged into the debate, proclaimed at 1:15 p.m. that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did now have the votes for passage. The number of yeas, the source said, was roughly 220 - just two more than is needed for passage.

"The caveat," the source said, "is that Pelosi isn't going to let it get higher than that. She's whipping enough to win the vote but going to release the rest of the caucus to vote no."