Keeping Tally in the House

by Jonathan Cohn | March 5, 2010

News on health care reform will increasingly be about individual members, as President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi try to accumulate the 216--er, now 217--votes House Democrats need to pass the Senate bill. The widely held assumption among insiders is that the Democrats can count upon about 200 "yes" votes right now, or maybe a few more. There are, meanwhile, somewhere between 30 and 40 House Democratic votes up for grabs.

Thursday brought several developments. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Blue Dog from South Dakota who voted "no" on the first House bill indicated she intends to vote no on this one. The same goes for Maryland's Frank Kravotil. Via Greg Sargent at the Plum Line:

Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland, a previous No vote who was now said to be undecided, will vote No on the Senate health reform proposal, his spokesman confirms.
“He would vote against it,” the spokesman, Kevin Lawlor, says. Crucially, Kratovil would vote against the Senate bill even if there’s some kind of verbal guarantee that it would be fixed via reconciliation later, Lawlor says.
The only way Kratovil--one of the targets of a barrage of NRCC robocalls hammering the reform proposals as “dangerous”--could support the Senate bill is if it’s fixed first via reconciliation, before the House votes on it. But no one expects this to happen.

Remember, given the vacancies since November and likelihood that some House members change from yes to no over abortion, Obama and Pelosi almost certainly have to turn a few no votes into yes.

More encouraging word came from Ohio's John Boccieri, who voted no the first time but indicated he likes the Senate bill and some of the amendments President Obama proposed last week. Tennessee's Bart Gordon, a retiring blue dog who voted no, issued a statement offering more forceful praise of the new bill:

Throughout the debate over the past year, I've said any responsible health care bill must do two things: reduce overall health care spending and increase access to affordable care. I voted against the House bill in November because it expanded coverage but did not do enough to bring down costs. I'm pleased to see the discussion moving in a more fiscally responsible direction now," Gordon said. "I'm especially pleased the President incorporated my ideas on medical malpractice reform in his proposal, as well as Republican ideas on increasing insurance accountability. Together, these measures will help to reduce health
care costs and get our deficit under control.

On the left, Arizona's Raul Grijalva, who had been objecting to the Senate bill's lack of a public option, released a conciliatory statement announcing that Obama had pledged to pursue a public option at some future date:

The meeting with President Obama today was productive and necessary, and I was glad to hear him speak frankly about where we stand on health care legislation. He said the public option--a well-known and long-standing progressive priority--lacks enough Senate support to be included in the final package. However, he personally committed to pursue a public option after passage of the current bill.
 
I remain concerned about elements of the bill, but was encouraged by the president’s outreach and interest in a substantive discussion. We agree that expanding health care access and quality, while bringing down costs, is a top priority this year, and I intend to continue playing a constructive role until Congress holds its final vote.

As you can see, the statements members make in the coming days are unlikely to be too definitive. And members can change their minds, particularly if the political environment takes an unexpected turn. If the last few months have taught us anything, it's that we should expect the unexpected. Still, these statements give some sense of how the House organizing effort is going.

By the way, the links above all come from the Sargent, who is tracking the House vote as closely as anybody is worth checking several times a day if, like me, you want to know about every development.

Update: I originally said Grijalva is from California. He is, of course, from Arizona. More sleep, I need...

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