December 24, 2009


A Christmas Miracle in the Senate, and a Hair-Raising New Year for the House (John Heilemann, 12/24/09, New York Magazine)

To get a sense of the degree of difficulty facing the speaker, begin by considering the narrowness of the vote by which the House passed its version of the bill in November: 220–215. Then realize that, on January 3, Florida Democratic congressman Bob Wexler will resign — and that Louisiana Republican Joseph Cao, the one GOP member who voted for the House bill, has reportedly said he won’t be the deciding vote in favor of final passage. That means the effective baseline Pelosi is working with is 218–216. She truly has no margin for error.

Then consider three widely circulated letters from Democratic House members to Pelosi in the past few months: One in which 60 representatives stated they would not support a health-care bill (like the Senate’s) with no public option; one in which 41 pledged to vote against any bill “that contains language that restricts women’s right to choose any further than current law” (as the House bill did with the inclusion of the Stupak amendment and the Senate’s arguably does with its softer Ben Nelson–approved language); and one in which 188 stated their opposition to taxing high-cost employer-provided “Cadillac” health-care packages (as the Senate bill does).

“There’s lots of overlap [between the signatories], to be sure,” a liberal congressman tells me via e-mail. “But the point is that there are several dozen members who signed three letters saying they were ‘no’ if caddy plan or Stupak were in [the bill] or the P.O. was out.”

The problem for Pelosi is that the progressive members of her caucus long expected the House-Senate conference to be a place where the bill would be nudged back toward the left. But now, the consensus among swing senators — including Nelson, Joe Lieberman, and Kent Conrad — is that any significant movement in that direction would unravel the series of deals and compromises that Reid needed to employ to get to 60.

Given the district she represents, Ms Pelosi ought to understand the idea of being led around on a leash.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2009 8:40 AM
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