Democrats close in on the votes for health-care reform

Jon Ward Contributor
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Democrats appeared to be closing in Monday on achieving support from enough lawmakers in the House to pass a historic and sweeping health-care reform bill, though the outcome was still far from certain.

President Obama signaled said that while Democrats do not yet have the 216 votes they need in the House, he believes the votes will be there when they need to be.

“I believe we are going to get the votes. We are going to make this happen,” Obama said after a rally in Cleveland, during a brief interview with Jake Tapper of ABC News.

Hours later on Capitol Hill, a high-ranking House Democrat said the votes were, in fact, there.

“I believe we have the votes and that we will get this bill done this week,” said Rep. John Larson, the Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. He offered no details to verify his claim, but an aide clarified that his intent was more of a prediction than an statement of current conditions.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was similarly confident.

“When we bring the bill to the floor, we will have the votes,” she said at an afternoon press conference.

Meanwhile, the small group of rank-and-file House Democrats whose votes will decide the matter ran from reporters as they exited the House chamber following a vote late Monday.

The Daily Caller caught seven House Democrats on their way out of the chamber who voted against the health-care bill in November but have yet to commit which way they’ll vote this time and are considered likely to switch their vote – Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Brian Baird of Washington, John Barrow of Georgia, Glenn Nye of Virginia, John Tanner of Tennessee, Allen Boyd of Florida and John Boccieri of Ohio.

All but Boyd and Boccieri refused to make any comment.

“No please, no please,” Barrow said in response to repeated questions about whether he will vote for or against the bill.

“I am not interested in talking,” Murphy said.

“I don’t have anything to say,” said Altmire.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who had been a definite no up until Obama flew him to the Cleveland rally on board Air Force One, also declined to comment to The Daily Caller on his way out of the chamber.

Both Boyd and Boccieri had reasons to talk. Boyd wanted to explain why he had voted earlier Monday against passing the reconciliation “fix” to the Senate bill out of the House Budget Committee, saying it was because it included provisions related to a change in how college loans are provided.

But Boyd said that if the final bill that he is asked to consider later this week meets his criteria for fiscal responsibility and other benchmarks, he will “seriously consider voting for this legislation.”

Boccieri appeared to signal to many earlier in the day Monday that he was leaning against voting for the bill, when he skipped the president’s event in his home state even though he was nearby.

The Ohio Democrat said he didn’t go to the rally because it “wasn’t in my district,” and defended the Senate bill vigorously, sounding ready to vote for it.

“I think this version of health-care reform is going to pass,” he said. “At the end of the day we’ve got to decide if we do nothing or if we move an imperfect bill.”

Boccieri said he was “very pleased” that the Senate bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will reduce the deficit by $132 billion during its first 10 years. He said that the argument by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, that the bill actually would add $460 billion to the deficit amounted to “fuzzy math.”

Boccieri did not have an answer when asked about the fear many Americans have that expanding coverage to 30 million who currently do not have health insurance, through government subsidies, will only add to the government’s growing problem with unfunded entitlement programs.

He said that “not all” of the 30 million Americans without insurance will be given government subsidies, “unless they lose their job and are looking for coverage.”

Still, Boccieri insisted he had not yet made up his mind.

Overall, however, if Pelosi is able to flip the seven Democrats interviewed by The Daily Caller, plus a few others – Suzanne Kosmas of Florida and Bart Gordon of Tennessee are two – and limit the number of defections among pro-life and fiscally conservative Democrats who voted for the bill the first time, she will likely pass the bill.

Three different polls were released Monday by stakeholders and advocates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ran surveys in 10 key congressional districts — including Boyd’s, Altmire’s and Nye’s — that showed strong opposition to Obama’s proposal.

The Chamber poll of 400 registered voters, conducted by Ayres, McHenry & Associates, showed the average breakdown in the 10 districts to be about roughly 60 percent opposed and 30 percent in favor.

The Service Employees International Union released its own poll that it said showed the need for lawmakers to stop acting out of self-interest and to start acting in the best interests of the country – a line similar to Obama’s own at his rally in Cleveland. SEIU did not release the actual questions and answers from the poll, making it harder to judge the results.

And two conservative groups – Independent Women’s Voice and the polling company, inc./WomanTrend – released a survey that targeted 35 key congressional districts with questions that were designed to put the president’s proposal in a negative light.

Much of the procedural debate on Monday was focused on the “Slaughter solution” — an arcane maneuver in which House Democrats would “deem” the Senate bill passed once they voted for reconciliation and avoid an up-or-down vote on the bill itself.

House Republicans disseminated a Wall Street Journal op-ed by former federal judge Michael W. McConnell arguing that the “Slaughter solution” would violate Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution.

Democrats dismissed this argument.

“Any bill that moves — including the health-care reform bill — will be voted on first and need to pass with majority support,” said Vincent Morris, spokesman for House Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat.

“I think folks who are trying to attack this process on Constitutional grounds don’t actually understand how Congress works.”