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Deal's exit not likely to sway final health care vote
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President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for federal lawmakers to vote “up or down” on bitterly contested health care legislation in the next few weeks without allowing Republicans to kill the bill with mere talk.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal’s absence from the vote, when it occurs, will likely have little impact on the outcome, say two political experts.

Deal, on Monday, announced he would be leaving Washington early to focus on his bid to be Georgia’s governor. His departure Monday will leave his fellow Republicans with one fewer “no” vote in their fight against Obama’s health care plan.

The outcome of the vote will affect nearly every American, mandating major changes in the ways they receive and pay for health care or leaving in place current systems that leave tens of millions with no coverage and many others dissatisfied with what they do get. With Republicans united in opposition, there is no certainty about the final result in Congress — or even that Democrats will go along with changes Obama urged on Wednesday in what he described as a bipartisan gesture.

But in a sea of more than 430, Deal’s absence likely won’t matter much, said Ross Alexander, a political scientist at North Georgia College & State University.

“If he was a senator, and he was one of 100 — and the debate is much closer in the Senate — I think it would have been a bigger deal,” said Alexander. “... Had he been a senator, I don’t know if he’d have resigned, because it’s so close.”

In a day and age that Republicans are united against Democrats and vice versa, University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said he does not see Deal’s resignation as a huge loss to Republicans in their fight against Obama’s health care plan.

“Given how polarized voting has become, you don’t often see bipartisan coalitions coming together to shape legislation — at least on the high-visibility issues. It tends to be all Democrats, or virtually all of them on one side, and all Republicans voting in opposition,” Bullock said. “To the extent that that’s the pattern, then it doesn’t really matter.”

In a speech Wednesday, Obama endorsed a plan that denies Senate Republicans the right to kill the health care bill by stalling with a filibuster.

“I don’t see how another year of negotiations would help. Moreover, the insurance companies aren’t starting over,” Obama said, rejecting Republican calls to begin anew on an effort to remake the health care system.

Deal reserved comment until after he had a chance to see the details of the plan; the outgoing representative was on a plane to Washington on Wednesday afternoon.

However, Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson issued a statement expressing his disappointment in the president’s decision. Isakson said Congress should start over with a plan that included increasing coverage of preventative care that will help control the cost of managing chronic diseases and allowing insurance to be sold across state lines.

“I am disappointed that the president has decided to move forward on health care with more of the same,” Isakson said. “There are ways to find common ground, but recycling legislation the American people have already rejected is not the way to go about it.”
The president made his appeal as Democratic leaders in Congress surveyed their rank-and-file for the votes needed to pass legislation by majority vote — invoking rules that deny Senate Republicans the right to block it through endless stalling debate.

Obama specifically endorsed that approach.

While Obama said he wanted action within a few weeks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seemed to hint a final outcome could take far longer. “We remain committed to this effort, and we’ll use every option available to deliver meaningful reform this year,” he said.

With polls showing voters unhappy and Democrats worried about this fall’s elections, Obama also sought to cast the coming showdown in terms larger than health care, which is an enormously ambitious undertaking in its own right. “At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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