Pelosi and Democrats zero in on votes after clearing Congressional Budget Office hurdle

Jon Ward Contributor

It’s all about the votes now.

Democrats finally got President Obama’s health-care bill through the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Thursday, which reported that the plan will cost $940 billion over 10 years, setting themselves up for a Sunday vote.

The president postponed until June a planned trip to Australia, Guam and Indonesia, clearing the way for him to be fully focused on getting a bill passed.

Pelosi and her lieutenants turned their attention to grabbing the last few votes to get them to their magic number: 216.

It’s far from a sure bet that Pelosi can secure the votes, but Democrats know it’s within their grasp (read the latest vote counts from The Hill and FireDogLake).

Rep. Brad Ellsworth, Indiana Democrat and a key member of the pro-life Stupak caucus, said he’s pleased with the CBO score and is just waiting to see if there’s any way to fix the abortion language in the Senate bill.

“That’s what we’re going to wait and see,” he said to reporters.

Other than that, he said, “I would say it meets most of my requirements.”

Pelosi was on the House floor as lawmakers voted on a separate issue related to the “Slaughter solution.”

She listened intently to Rep Zack Space, an Ohio Democrat who voted against the health-care bill in November. Between Pelosi and Space was Rep John Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, who was talking to Space before Pelosi came over.

Pelosi, after listening to Space talk for several minutes, leaned in, talking and gesturing while Space listened intently.

Senate and House Republicans denounced the Democrats bill as news of the CBO report broke, but a top House GOP leader indicated the bill would likely pass.

“It’s close. Traditionally, you know, I mean, these things do gel for them in the end,” said Rep. David Drier, California Republican and ranking member on the House Rules Committee, which will likely take up the bill on Saturday.

“But you know what, this year, because the anger level among the American people is so high, and there are so many districts that have Democrats representing them with very strong opposition to this, I think we’ve got a chance to beat it,” Drier said.

Democrats touted the CBO preliminary report, which said the president’s plan will reduce the deficit by $138 billion over 10 years.

“I love numbers. They’re so precise,” Pelosi said.

However, the CBO “score” does not include the additional $350 billion or so in additional Medicare costs that Congress will approve in a separate “Doc fix” bill.

And the CBO score, which is required to count only revenues and outlays in the bill, also fails to account for the fact that the bill will likely increase the national debt by a few hundred billion.

Because higher revenues from entitlements must be spent on making those entitlements more solvent, much of the money spent on new insurance coverage for 30 million Americans will almost certainly have to be borrowed, which would add $500 billion or so to the national debt.

The biggest impact of the budget score is that it gives Democrats a talking point that, for political purposes, will allow them to say the health care bill is cost-effective at a time when many Americans rank government spending at the top of their list of national concerns.

This will help them, potentially, win over undecided fiscally conservative Democrats.

However, significant uncertainty remains over how the “reconciliation” process will work, and how many of the fixes that liberal House Democrats want made to the original Senate bill will actually make it through that complicated process.

Republicans have promised to challenge every provision they think does not qualify to be included in the reconciliation package, in at attempt to spook House Democrats who do not like the Senate bill as it is.