[Posted by Karl]
Pres. Obama plans to announce the Democrats’ “way forward” on ObamaCare tomorrow — though it is already pretty clear to everyone that the Dems are going to try to ram it through Congress with a reconciliation strategy. Inside Health Policy’s Julian Pecquet and Amy Lotven obtained a Democratic memo with a proposed timeline: The House passes the Senate bill by March 19th, and a reconciliation bill “fixing” it within a week, sending the latter to the Senate for reconcilation starting March 26. The Dem hope is that the Easter recess will deter the GOP from filing numerous amendments that would force Democrats to take difficult votes (even if its only a vote to waive forced by VP Joe Biden). Obviously, the Dem leadership does not want its members going home and facing angry voters again until the deed is done.
Thus, the immediate problem for Dems is a shortage of House votes for the Senate bill (and no news that the Senate will assure the House of going along with any particular fixes yet). FDL’s David Dayen notes that the Obama administration is using the media to start pressuring House members who voted “no” last time:
Ten House Democrats indicated in an Associated Press survey Monday they have not ruled out switching their “no” votes to “yes” on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, brightening the party’s hopes in the face of unyielding Republican opposition.
In interviews with the AP, at least 10 of the 39 Democrats — or their spokesmen — either declined to state their positions or said they were undecided about the revised legislation, making them likely targets for intense wooing by Pelosi and Obama. Three of them — Brian Baird of Washington, Bart Gordon of Tennessee and John Tanner of Tennessee — are not seeking re-election this fall.
The others are Rick Boucher of Virginia, Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Michael McMahon of New York, Walt Minnick of Idaho, Scott Murphy of New York and Glenn Nye of Virginia. Several lawmakers’ offices did not reply to the AP queries.
The tipoff — as RCP’s Jay Cost noted on Twitter — is the timing of the AP story. These members have been non-committal or unresponsive to press inquiries for months. And quite frankly, a number of them are not as undecided as the AP would have readers believe.
First, the AP itself reported that Minnick will not change his vote, according to his spokesman — which is no surprise, given his record and the heavy GOP tilt of his district. Jay notes that Boucher now has a top-tier opponent in his re-election race. Kratovil told the New York Times that he prefers a smaller bill. (Both Kratovil and Boucher represent districts that went 58-59% for McCain in 2008.) The NYT also reports that Tanner has told colleagues he has no intention of switching his vote. And the AP did not bother to check with Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania:
With so many Democrats feeling nervous about their past votes in favor of the health bill, Mr. Altmire said, he can imagine vote-switching in only one direction: from yes to no.
“I don’t know of any no votes at this point that would switch unless the bill is substantially changed, including me,” he said. “And I know of a handful of yes votes who regret it and would relish the opportunity to put a no vote on the board so they could go back home and talk about that.”
Indeed, Bloomberg reports that Baron Hill of Indiana might not back a measure if it goes through reconciliation — and his colleague Brad Ellsworth sounds queasy, too (both have considered running for the Senate seat being vacated by Evan Bayh).
FDL’s Dayen issued a cautionary note to his left-leaning readers:
I do want to say one thing to those who claim that Nancy Pelosi has special powers, and that she doesn’t lose a vote in the House ever, which has been floated by commentators and members of Congress alike. Let’s be clear about this – Pelosi DID lose the vote in November. She won final passage of the health care bill, but if she had her way, the Stupak amendment would never have gotten a vote. She ignored and ignored Stupak for several months, hopeful that she could round up enough votes for the bill without him. And ultimately, she was unsuccessful, forced to roll back women’s rights as a consequence of passing health care reform.
Now, she doesn’t have that out. The Nelson amendment governs the abortion language in the Senate bill, and as changing that through reconciliation is unlikely to pass the Byrd rule, basically that cannot be changed.
Thus, the supposed two-bill strategy (Senate bill + reconciliation) might have to become a three-bill strategy to pick up Stupak’s bloc of pro-life Dems. But Stupak himself is already moving the goalposts, making objections beyond that issue. At the moment, it is sounding like Dems who voted “no” (and some who voted “yes”) will let Nancy Pelosi break their arms as preferable to suffering political death in November. The Easter deadline — like all of the other Obamacare deadlines — may already be slipping.
Update: Slate’s Timothy Noah confirms in even greater detail just how difficult it will be for Pelosi to flip Democrats from “no” to “yes.”