U.S. House committee clears first block toward historic healthcare overhaul

09:42, March 16, 2010      

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A key committee of U.S. House of Representatives voted Monday to approve the use of "budget reconciliation," an expedited procedure for passing a legislation, clearing the first block toward a sweeping healthcare overhaul bill that President Barack Obama has been courting for more than a year.

The 21-16 largely party-line vote in the House Budget Committee reflected the still sharp differences between Democrats and Republicans.

The vote of the Budget Committee is procedural, and the language of the reconciliation bill, in which a package of proposed changes to the Senate healthcare bill will be included, is still being written.

Reconciliation requires only a simple majority to push forward a controversial budget bill, as the Democrats are one vote short of a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate after an unexpected defeat in a Massachusetts special election in January.

After clearing the Budget Committee, the legislation is now going to the Rules Committee, where new language for the reconciliation bill will be drafted later this week and a full House vote is expected by the weekend.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs indicated Sunday that the healthcare bill will go through the House by this weekend.

"We'll have the votes when the House votes, I think, within the next week," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

President Obama once again courted public support for his top domestic legislation priority Monday during a trip to Ohio, after traveling to Pennsylvania and Missouri last week.

"We need courage, that's what we need," Obama said in Strongsville, Ohio. "We need an up or down vote -- it's time to vote."

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