Pelosi 'Confident' She Has Votes for Health Care Reform, but Dozens of House Dems Still May Need Convincing

August 7, 2009 - 2:52 AM
Even members of the Progressive Caucus -- the most liberal members of the House -- have problems with the health-care legislation as it stands.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a news conference July 31, 2009. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on July 22, "I have no question we have the votes on the floor of the House" to pass a health care overhaul. But the House Democratic leadership may find itself bleeding “Yea” votes when Congress returns from its August recess to take up the Obama-backed legislation.
 
Concerns about providing abortion with taxpayer dollars, taxing small businesses, and adding to the federal deficit -- coupled with political turmoil in their home districts -- means that even Democrats aside from the so-called Blue Dog fiscal conservatives have expressed reservations about the House bills as they now stand.
 
Three drafts of the Affordable Health Choices Act currently exist in the House of Representatives, with different versions having passed the House Education and Labor Committee, the Ways & Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee.
 
While each draft poses its own concerns for House Democrats, all three pose questions about abortion. In a June 25 letter to Pelosi (D-Calif.), 19 Democrats said they would not be able to support the bill “unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan.” They also wrote, “We believe that a government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan should not be used to fund abortion.”
 
The 19 Democrats writing to Pelosi include Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who voted against the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee. “To gain my vote,” Stupak said in a statement, “I must be convinced the final product effectively reforms our health care system.”
 
Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who is running for governor of Alabama, and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), running for the U.S. Senate in Florida, also have said that they do not want the government funding abortion, bringing the number to 21.
 
Despite those objections, Pelosi told CNSNews.com at a press briefing that the abortion issue “will not stand in the way of us advancing health care legislation,” and that “(m)y position on a woman’s right to choose is well-known.”
 
The wrangling in the Energy and Commerce Committee forced the Democratic leadership to broker a deal with the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who hold 7 of 13 Democratic seats on that committee—enough to kill the bill.
 
Three of the Blue Dogs secured a compromise which would allow payment rates to be negotiated with health care providers instead of based upon Medicare rates. That, in turn, angered progressive Democrats, who believe the provision weakens the proposed public option for health insurance.
 
Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), leaders of the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, fired off their own letter to Pelosi on August 4. It points out that “60 members” of the liberal group “voiced clear opposition to the deal struck with a few members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce that weakened the public plan and reduced subsidies.”
 
The bottom line, they said, was that they “stand solidly behind our criteria for a robust public option. We cannot support anything less.”
 
A spokesman for Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) said Ortiz also is concerned about the funding method.
 
“He’s looking at the whole package, and he’s concerned greatly about the way we would go about funding this bill,” the spokesman said. “Congressman Ortiz wants to be able to make the best decision for his constituents once he reviews the final bill.”
 
Dani Doane, director of government affairs at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, says Democrats are walking a tightrope because of the diversity of their caucus.
 
“(T)he needle that they threaded in Energy and Commerce to get both Progressives and Blue Dogs to sign off and pass the bill probably will not hold on the full floor,” she told CNSNews.com.
 
In addition to the progressives and Blue Dogs who want to see further amendments made to the bill, other mainstream Democrats also are concerned about the overall cost.
 
Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), for example, wants to wait and see what his constituents think. A Massa spokesman told CNSNews.com the congressman will “hold a series of healthcare meetings to hear from constituents, our first of which is tonight at 7:30, and there’s a lot of interest in the community about it.”
 
Many Democrats, it seems, simply wanted more time. Phil Kerpen, policy director at Americans for Prosperity, said even the Blue Dogs wanted their deal made with an eye toward taking the August recess to consider their vote.
 
“The main thing that they wanted was not to be forced to take a floor vote before the August recess,” he told CNSNews.com. “Now, to me, that indicates that they’re very frightened of the politics of this. They didn’t want to go home in August after this and have to defend taking another tough vote on top of the very tough cap and trade vote that a lot of them already took.”
 
“(S)o I think that based on what we’ve already seen in terms of popular response during August, I don’t think that strategy’s going to work. I think they’re seeing just as much anger as they would’ve seen if they had taken the vote, and so I think they’re going to be very, very skittish to pass something.”
 
To tally the numbers, then, there are 52 Blue Dog Democrats, 3 of whom have voted “Yea” on the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee. Many of the remaining 49 can be expected to have reservations about the bill.

Additionally, 8 members who signed the letter to Pelosi concerning abortion are not Blue Dogs, and 7 of those are not Progressives either. That brings the count to 56 potential dissenters. Adding Davis and Kendrick bumps the number to 58.

Finally, there are the 82 members of the Progressive Caucus, who now find the Energy and Commerce version of the bill not to be strong enough. Minus the one Progressive who signed the abortion letter, the full total of those who might vote against the bill would then stand at 139.
 
But Doane cautioned that because the letter from the Progressives is signed only by the leadership, it is difficult to determine how many of them would actually require significant revisions to the bill, so that really tally will likely be much smaller.
 
Nevertheless, she said, “The leadership sending this is obviously not a great sign for Pelosi and company.”
 
Another variable, according to Doane, which she said “nobody can really answer at this point,” is “what are they going to do in marrying the (three) bills together?”
 
“(T)hen you have to look at where people fall, because they could totally allow amendments or have provisions in there that address the Blue Dog concerns; and then you know you don’t have as many Blue Dogs voting against it – I think you’ll still have a significant number,” Doane told CNSNews.com. “But you raise the number of Progressives that oppose it. So it’s hard to say.”
 
In all then, one faction ultimately will be more appeased than the other, but Kerpen still expects the vote to be “down to the wire.”
 
Unless the Blue Dogs can take political cover under a potential bipartisan Senate deal, Kerpen asserted, “despite whatever Nancy Pelosi has said, (this) will be very much just based on political reality-- the level of outrage that we’ve seen in all of these Blue Dog districts.”
 
Doane said Pelosi’s assertion that she’ll have the votes she needs, then, is simply a byproduct of having the support of the White House.
 
“I think her confidence comes from the fact that whether they like it or not, they’re going to have to get something off the floor. It’s just a question of what.”