A man holds a banner dipicting US President Barack Obama during a pro-Obama rally in Jakarta. AFP photo.
President Barack Obama scuttled an Asian trip in favor of last-minute lobbying at the White House on his top domestic priority, a sweeping $940 billion U.S. health care reform plan that is now headed for a climatic weekend vote.
Obama played host to a procession of Democrats still wavering over the health care program, which would affect nearly every American and remake one-sixth of the U.S. economy. For the first time, Americans would be required to have health insurance.
Democrats were boosted by a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report that said health care reform would trim federal deficits by an estimated $138 billion over the next decade. The stakes are huge for Obama, who is putting much of his credibility on the line to gain passage of legislation. One Republican has said it could prove to be the president's Waterloo if the drive collapses.
"It will make history and we will make progress by passing this legislation," predicted the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Democrats unveiled final alterations to a bill - 16 tumultuous months in the making - meant to expand health care to 32 million uninsured Americans, bar the insurance industry from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.
Indonesian leaders, anticipating President Barack Obama's first official visit, said Friday they understood politics back home took priority after he postponed a trip to Jakarta, where he spent part of his childhood, to oversee a crucial health care vote.
The prime minister of Australia, where Obama had only planned to spend 24 hours, also said he was happy to wait and get a more leisurely visit with the president.