Anyone following the health care debate knows the action is once again in the House of Representatives. Because both chambers must pass identical bills—everything now hinges on whether or not the Senate version (which passed on Christmas Eve) can also pass the House. The president hopes the bill will by law by March 18.
Presumably, if the House were to pass the Senate version, a compromise version (essentially, President Obama’s plan) would then be adopted by a simple majority vote in both chambers before the president signs the bill into law.
Back in November, the House bill passed by a vote of 220-215. At the time, Democrats needed 218 votes for passage. This time around, Rep. John Murtha’s death and a handful of retirements mean fewer House Members are eligible to vote. As such, Democrats will need just 216 votes to pass a bill. The most recent and high profile example of a member no longer eligible to vote is Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), who voted against health care reform back in November. He now says he’s being forced out of office for that reason.
Analysts hoping to handicap the vote will have a difficult time doing so. I’ve seen plenty of MSMers “cheering” for the bill to pass, but giving an honest appraisal of its chances is another story. There are too many moving parts. For example, there are about 28 members who voted “aye” in November, but—based on recent statements and changing variables—may vote “no” this time. Conversely, there are approximately 16 “no” votes that could easily switch the other way. Simply put, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.
Perhaps the most pressing problem Democrats face regards the ever-controversial issue of abortion. Back in November, Democrats were only able to a pass health care bill because Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) successfully inserted language restricting the use of federal funds for abortions. But the Senate version has no such language.
Aside from Stupak, himself, there are thirteen House Members who voted for the House Bill, but now oppose the Senate version for this reason. Stupak’s bloc includes Rep. Joseph Cao (La.), the lone Republican who voted for the bill. The remaining dozen Democrats include Reps. Dale Kildee (Mich.), Jim Oberstar (Minn.), Charlie Wilson (Ohio), Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Bill Foster (Ill.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Chris Carney (Pa.), and Solomon Ortiz (Texas). Because this is a bloc of 14 votes, it is hard to imagine a scenario where health care could pass if this bloc votes no.
As Steven Erteld of LifeNews.com writes, “The strategy to win over Stupak and his colleagues has, so far, centered on two ideas: deny and negotiate. Pelosi has gone out of her way to deny that abortion funding is in the Senate health care bill while she and her top lieutenants talk about a companion bill that could be passed alongside the Senate bill and reconciliation measure to pacify Stupak.”
It does not appear to be working. Stupak’s bloc appears to be holding firm, promising not to vote for the Senate version—regardless of promises to “fix” it in reconciliation. But while many social conservatives I talk to are convinced Stupak will not be swayed by promises or threats, on his national radio show on Monday, Rush Limbaugh said, “Folks, don’t be surprised if Stupak caves at the end of the day.”
Democrats also risk losing seven members who voted for the bill, but have since became displeased with the handling of the health care bill—or have come under pressure from voters in their conservative districts to oppose it. Members of this list include Reps. Michael Arcuri (N.Y.), Marion Berry (Ark.), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Earl Pomeroy (N.D.). While these members were willing to risk voting for health care last year, as Election Day approaches, their willingness to take unpopular stances for the sake of their president may diminish.
But Republicans also have to worry about attrition. There are sixteen Democrats who voted “no” on the House bill in November who—based on news reports and recent statements—appear poised to switch their votes due to the intense pressure coming from Speaker Pelosi and the White House.
This list of possible vote-switchers includes Reps. John Adler (N.J.), Betsy Markey (Colo.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Jason Altmire (Pa.), Frank Kratovil (Md.), Brian Baird (Wash.), John Barrow (Ga.), John Boccieri (Ohio), John Tanner (Tenn.), Glenn Nye (Va.), Rick Boucher (Va.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.), Michael McMahon (N.Y.), and Scott Murphy (N.Y.). Making matters worse, many of these members are retiring and, thus, can vote for Obamacare without having to worry about standing before the voters.
Activists hoping to lobby “undecided” or “persuadable” members of Congress to oppose or support Obamacare would do well to begin calling members on these lists first.
One thing is for sure, things are moving at warp speed. This column may have a short shelf life.
Matt Lewis is a conservative writer and blogger, based in Alexandria, Va.