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Dems to add student-aid initiative to health bill

| Saturday, March 13, 2010

WASHINGTON -- President Obama agreed Friday to postpone a high-profile trip to Asia, signaling his commitment to swift action on his signature health care bill as Democrats in Congress prepared for action next week and expanded the bill's scope to include a popular student aid initiative.

The president's change of travel plans, which will move his departure overseas from March 18 to March 21, will enable him to remain active in pushing uneasy Democrats toward final approval of his signature domestic policy initiative.

But it underscored the possibility that Democrats might miss a self-imposed deadline that they hold the first of a series of three critical health care votes next Friday.

"We stand ready to stay as long as it takes to pass a bill," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In a move that doubles the stakes for Obama, Democrats are now expecting to simultaneously advance another major White House priority -- Obama's drive to overhaul the federal college student-loan program and to increase spending for grants to low income college students.

Democratic leaders have tentatively decided to add the student aid overhaul to the health care package because it generates additional budget savings and circumvents a possible obstacle in the Senate as they deploy an expedited legislative procedure known as "budget reconciliation."

The Congressional Budget Office has been working to complete its analysis of the health care bill, which Democrats are aiming to keep to a cost of less than $1 trillion over 10 years. The CBO's authoritative report on projected costs and impact is considered crucial to a small group of conservative Democrats who remain uncommitted to supporting the bill.

The move to link the health and education bills is a big boost to prospects for passing the student loan bill, which is vehemently opposed by the banking lobby and faces a filibuster threat. The reconciliation process precludes a filibuster.

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