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

Jon Ward Contributor
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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.

Rep. Baron Hill, Indiana Democrat, voted for the House bill in November. But he told Bloomberg News on Monday that he is concerned about the use of reconciliation to push a health-care bill through Congress — the procedure would circumvent the need for a 60-vote majority in the Senate, where Democrats slipped to 59 votes in January with the loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, estimates that there are several House Democrats in conservative districts who will feel pressure, following the Massachusetts election, to vote against a bill that is so intensely disliked by a majority of the electorate, according to polling over the last few months.

As for the pro-life bloc, Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, has said there are around a dozen House lawmakers who will not vote for the legislation passed by the Senate, which they deem insufficient in preventing federal funds from paying for abortions.

Obama’s proposal so far is to keep the Senate bill’s language, which Stupak said last week is “unacceptable.”

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, and Majority Whip James Clyburn, of South Carolina — have been tight-lipped about specific vote counts.

Pelosi said Sunday she is confident she will have the votes to pass a bill.

Here is a list of the 18 House Democrat who have given an answer on where they stand:

Brian Baird (WA) – UNDECIDED
John Boccieri (Ohio) UNDECIDED
Dan Boren (OK) – NO
Bobby Bright (AL) – NO
Rick Boucher (VA) – UNDECIDED*
Artur Davis (AL) – NO
Lary Kissell (NC) – NO
Suzanne Kosmas (FL) – UNDECIDED*
Frank Kravotil (MD) – UNDECIDED
Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) – NO
Betsy Markey (Colo) – UNDECIDED
Jim Marshall (GA) – LIKELY NO
Jim Matheson (UT) – UNDECIDED
Michael McMahon (NY) – UNDECIDED*
Scott Murphy (NY) – UNDECIDED*
Glenn Nye (VA) – UNDECIDED
John Tanner (TN) – UNDECIDED
Gene Taylor (Miss) – NO

This article originally stated that the special election was to be held March 13.