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Bishop unsure on health care vote

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Democratic Congressman Sanford Bishop's staff says that the Blue Dog Democrat remains undecided on whether he will support a contentious health care reform bill unveiled Thursday in the House.

Support from Bishop and other Democrats who are currently on the fence will be key if the measure is to make it out of the House.

Fellow Georgia Blue Dog Democrats Jim Marshall, D-Macon, and John Barrow, D-Augusta, are expected to vote against the bill.

Bishop's Press Chief Jennie Gibson told the Herald Thursday afternoon that the congressman was "still undecided until he has a chance to read the bill."

A vote on the measure will likely come as soon as Sunday, officials say. House rules bar officials from voting on the bill for 72 hours after it has been distributed to the public.

Gibson confirmed media reports that Bishop wants stricter language than was in the Senate bill to ensure that it doesn't authorize federal funds for abortions. The bill unveiled Thursday keeps the same language that was in the Senate bill in terms of abortions. That means no plans would be required to offer abortions, and any plan that did offer it would have to force policyholders to pay for the procedure separately. The money used would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money.

Under the new plan, states could ban abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange program, but exceptions still exist in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.

Bishop, who faces opposition from at least two Republican candidates for his seat in the 2nd Congressional District, has been the focus of heavy criticism within the South Georgia conservative community from those who have denounced his support of the bill.

The bill, which is estimated to cost roughly $940 billion over the next 10 years, has drawn fire-and-brimstone rhetoric from those who oppose the issue, including a call to the public from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, Wednesday to storm the capital in a move similar to one undertaken in Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution.

The bill would mandate all Americans have some type of health insurance coverage by 2014 or pay a fine equal to 2.5 percent of their total income.

A preliminary estimate by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the changes to the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by $138 billion in the first decade and by $1.3 trillion in the first 20 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.