Politics

As Obama prepares to speak about the way forward on health care, it’s the votes that count

Washington wants to know: Will any of the 38 House Democrats who voted against President Obama’s health-care bill in November change their vote, and can Speaker Nancy Pelosi keep all of her yeses from defecting?

The success or failure of the president’s overtime push for a bill rests on the answers. Since last week, The Daily Caller has been pressing those lawmakers to say where they stand.

Only a third of the no votes have responded — 13 to the Daily Caller and another four to the Associated Press — but a general picture of the state of play is emerging.

A significant number of lawmakers, 11 of the 17 who have responded to The Daily Caller or AP, are refusing to rule out a yes vote, saying they are undecided (see the full list here).

“He is going to take a look at whatever proposal comes up for a vote in the House, and make his decision based on the merits of that specific bill,” said Clark Pettig, spokesman for Rep. Glenn Nye, Virginia Democrat.

There is significant resistance as well, and even signs of stress among Democrats who voted for the bill the first time.

Six lawmakers who responded to direct questions said they will definitely vote against anything that resembles the plan the president unveiled last week.

“He is a still a no. There will be no movement on this,” said Cole Perryman, a spokesman for Rep. Dan Boren, Oklahoma Democrat.

A seventh, Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, is running for governor and has made clear he will not vote for a comprehensive health-care bill.

For all the hype surrounding Obama’s “way forward” speech Wednesday, which White House press secretary Robert Gibbs downgraded Tuesday to something “more like a statement than a speech,” it is the votes that count more than anything else.

Pelosi and her lieutenants currently have only 216 of the 220 yes votes that got them across the finish line when the House first passed a bill in November. The lone Republican, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, has said he is opposed, Rep. John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, died last month, Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, left for a think tank in January and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, left the chamber Sunday to run for governor of his state.

The threshold for a majority last fall was 218 votes, but is now 217, because the number of seated members in the House has gone from 435 to 432.

The Democrats look to gain a 217th vote in about two weeks, when a special election is held April 13* to fill Wexler’s seat in what is a reliably Democratic district.

Additionally, three of the 38 House Democrats who voted against the bill the first time are retiring after this term, and might be vulnerable to persuasion that they have nothing to lose by switching their votes.

Of those three retiring members, only Rep. Barton Gordon, of Tennessee, has said where he stands. Rep. Brian Baird of Washington and Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee have both said they are undecided.

If support for a bill slips from two other blocs — the fiscal conservative and pro-life blocs — that would put Pelosi’s vote total well below 217 or 218.