WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has delayed his first international trip of the year, a visit to Asia, to focus attention on the final push to salvage sputtering U.S. health care legislation after a year of contentious debate.
The trip to Guam, Australia and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country where Obama spent several years as a youngster, will now run from March 21-26, rather than March 18-24, according to a senior administration official who spoke condition of anonymity because the White House hadn’t announced the delay.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs had insisted that Congress act on health legislation by March 18 — Obama’s original departure date. But the White House seemed to have back off that as Democratic leaders tried to round up enough votes for passage of Obama’s top priority.
Obama plans to launch launch a comprehensive partnership with Indonesia, mark the 70th anniversary of U.S.-Australia relations and discuss Afghanistan and nuclear nonproliferation with Australia’s leaders. In the U.S. territory of Guam, he will meet with U.S. military personnel on the island.
Obama’s American mother married an Indonesian after divorcing Obama’s Kenyan father, and the future present attended school in the capital, Jakarta, from 1967 to 1971.
In the health care push in Congress, top Democrats are working to resolve disputes over Obama’s plan, his top domestic priority, with difficult decisions ahead.
House Democrats planned to meet on Friday to discuss the evolving plan and for leaders to try to soothe lawmakers worried about the price they might pay in November’s congressional elections for supporting it.
Even with initial votes possible next week, few were claiming that Democrats had the votes in hand to prevail — especially in the House, where the roll call is expected to be a cliffhanger.
The legislation would restrict how insurance companies dole out coverage to customers, require most people to carry policies and extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans, financed by slowing the growth of government-run health care for the elderly and raising some taxes.
To finish a yearlong push and overcome unanimous Republican opposition, the House must finally approve a near $1 trillion health overhaul bill the Senate approved Dec. 24.
Democrats plan to use budget reconciliation rules to skirt Republican procecural delays that would let them kill that legislation with just 41 votes in the 100-member Senate. Republicans claim the Democratic strategy abuses Senate processes, but Democrats respond that reconciliation has been used mostly by the Republicans in the past.