With the 72-hour deadline for passing the contentious healthcare reform bill approaching rapidly Democrats, under steady fire from across the aisle, are scrambling to get to the “magic number” of 216 votes required for its passage in the House of Representatives on Sunday.

This week a barrage of criticism was levelled at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for attempting to get the bill through the House using the “deemed passed” rule. By this procedure, House members would simply vote on additional changes to the Senate version of the bill rather than the Senate bill itself. However, after this vote the Senate bill, along with the changes, would be “deemed passed.”

The idea behind this would be to give fence-sitters in the House the option of not having to affix their signature to a Senate bill that they have fundamental doubts about. One major difference between the two versions of the bill is the Senate version's language on funding for health insurance policies that include abortion is weaker than the House's so-called “Stupak amendment.”

Republicans, already mounting stronger attacks against what they have called a “government takeover of healthcare” came out strongly against the proposed House procedure. John Boehner, House Minority Leader described it as a “slaughter solution,” saying it was nothing more than an incumbent protection programme for “Democrats afraid to stick their necks out because they know how much the American people oppose this bill.”

Yet a key development in favour of the Democrats' ambition to win over some 36-odd wavering members of their party was the updated cost-benefit “scoring” provided by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office this week. The CBO ruled that the proposed reform programme would cost $940 billion and lead to a reduction in the deficit by close to $138 billion over the next 10 years — an estimate that cheered Democrats for showing a lower cost level than what was assumed earlier.

However, the Republicans countered this strongly too: Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “My Democratic colleagues never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no CBO score… and what it reveals is nothing more than a guess.”

Meanwhile President Obama has busied himself delivering a slew of fiery speeches in Washington and elsewhere, seeking to win support for a bill whose passage would help him end the U.S.'s painful struggle with healthcare reform.

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