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Obama gambles on health care vote

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
Barack Obama is facing his lowest approval ratings since becoming U.S. president amid friction over his health care reform plans.
Barack Obama is facing his lowest approval ratings since becoming U.S. president amid friction over his health care reform plans.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama's move to push Congress to vote on health care is his biggest gamble
  • Democrats hope to squeeze legislation through despite Republican opposition
  • Just 48 percent of Americans approve of Obama's performance in office
  • Obama delays trip to Indonesia, Australia to campaign at home
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(CNN) -- There wasn't a big-screen hero with a gun to his head or a Hollywood beauty in harm's way, but Washington was caught-up in a cliffhanger this week -- and President Barack Obama was at the center of it.

"This is the biggest gamble he's ever made," said CNN Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

The gamble was Obama's decision to push Congress to vote on his most important initiative, the trillion-dollar plan to overhaul American health care, with no guarantee of the outcome.

The odds kept changing for days, as lawmakers came forward to announce their intentions or express their uncertainty.

There didn't have to be so much suspense. The Democrats have majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

But Democrats in the House have been divided on the plan and their majority in the Senate isn't big enough to override Republican opposition.

So Democratic leaders spent the week trying to round-up more support and calculate whether they could squeeze the legislation through without a full, regular vote in case they couldn't win it.

Republican Congressman Mike Pence called the prospect of enacting the reform with special rules instead of a clear Congressional majority "an insult to the American people."

It was at the very least a sign of how much has changed since the president took office little more than a year ago.

According to the latest Gallup poll, only 48 percent of Americans approve of Obama's performance in office; his lowest numbers as president. Only 45 percent support his health care plan.

With the plan at stake and the future of his presidency also in the balance, he chose to delay a scheduled trip to Indonesia and Australia to concentrate on campaigning at home.

"I am calling on Congress to pass these reforms," he said. "I'm going to sign them into law. I want some courage. I want us to do the right thing."

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Obama has set and missed a number of deadlines for the plan. So the vote could be delayed further until the Democrats can be more confident of the outcome.

But pass or fail, Obama's magic wasn't enough to win this. It has come down to machinations and math.