Is ‘Plan B’ the new ‘Medicare Part D’? (Prepare for arm-twisting)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Majority Leader Eric Cantor says Republicans have the votes to pass “Plan B” tonight, but not everyone is convinced.

As Slate’s Dave Weigel tweets: “Cantor does not ‘have the votes.’ You don’t hold off the vote for eight hours if you ‘have the votes.'”

It’s hard to tell how late into the night this might go. Or how many arms will be twisted before it’s all over.

Regardless of what you think about “Plan B,” it’s pretty clear that Republican leadership will look incredibly weak if they can’t even deliver enough votes to pass their own legislation.

This could get ugly.

This, of course, is nothing new. Jim DeMint, for example, has written about how President Bush attempted to cajole — and then, intimidate him — into voting for more spending. (It didn’t work.)

He wasn’t alone. I just got off the phone with former Arizona Rep. John Shadegg (listen to our conversation here), who recalled the late night when Republicans passed Medicare Part D. According to Shadegg, former Speaker Dennis Hastert — a friend — came to him several times during the night, asking for his vote.

It didn’t work on Shadegg, either — but it did work on many of his colleagues.

If you’re wondering what that night was like, in 2007, “60 Minutes” did a story on the Medicare vote. Here’s an excerpt:

Why did the vote finally take place at 3 a.m.?


“Well, I think a lot of the shenanigans that were going on that night, they didn’t want on national television in primetime,” according to [GOP Indiana Rep. Dan] Burton.


“I’ve been in politics for 22 years,” says [GOP North Carolina Rep. Walter] Jones, “and it was the ugliest night I have ever seen in 22 years.”


… when it came time to cast ballots, the Republican leadership discovered that a number of key Republican congressmen had defected and joined the Democrats, arguing that the bill was too expensive and a sellout to the drug companies. Burton and Jones were among them.


“They’re suppose to have 15 minutes to leave the voting machines open and it was open for almost three hours,” Burton explains. “The votes were there to defeat the bill for two hours and 45 minutes and we had leaders going around and gathering around individuals, trying to twist their arms to get them to change their votes.”


Jones says the arm-twisting was horrible.


… [GOP Louisiana Rep. Billy] Tauzin says that the voting machines were open for three hours “because the vote wasn’t finished.”


As for arms being twisted? “People were being talked to,” he says.


And of Walter Jones’ comment that it was the “ugliest night” he had “ever seen in politics in 22 years?”


“Well, he’s a young member,” counters Tauzin with a laugh. “Had he been around for 25 years, he’d have seen some uglier nights.”

So yeah, it could be a long night.

Of course, the times aren’t identical. Instead of pushing conservatives to spend more, leadership is now pushing them to raise taxes.

But just as the establishment can exert pressure from the inside (with committee assignments, etc.), the conservative movement can make life difficult for Republicans who bow to the internal pressure.

Groups like Heritage Action Network, The Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks are all opposing “Plan B.” And popular conservative talk show host Mark Levin has warned: “I’m telling the so-called conservative Republicans in the House this will be a key determining factor for your future political careers.”

Matt K. Lewis