Greenbaum: House Must — and Can — Pass Senate Health Care Reform Bill

Posted January 25, 2010 at 12:32pm

With Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special Senate election, there is now only one way for Congress to approve a larger health care package: The House must pass the Senate bill. The stakes could not be higher. [IMGCAP(1)]Right now, many House Members are either noncommittal or vocal in their belief that the House cannot pass the Senate bill, a view born out of fear from the Massachusetts result. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quickly said she doesn’t have the votes, and for his part, President Barack Obama has called on Congress to take it slow. The lack of urgency among the White House and Congress is startling, and some plans being bandied about — to start over or to take up numerous separate bills — are absurd and would commit more weeks and perhaps months to what has been an endlessly broken and unpopular process. Obama and Members need to wake up. Failure to pass the Senate bill will doom any substantive reform and flip control of the House to the GOP come November. If the party leaders pass nothing, they will be politically impotent and undeserving of a Congressional majority. A bill must be passed, soon, and Obama and Pelosi need to impose that urgency on Members so Democrats can turn their focus to jobs and the economy in the runup to the midterm elections.So, how can the House pass the Senate bill? Passage will likely hinge on how successfully the Speaker can recruit supporters of the Stupak amendment that restricted access to government-funded abortions. Because the Senate bill doesn’t have the same anti-abortion provisions that were in the House bill, a coalition of anti-abortion Democrats could kill it. In total, 64 Democratic House Members voted for the amendment, and of those, 36 voted for the House health care bill that passed 220-215. It is well documented that the bill would have failed if not for the inclusion of the amendment. Therefore, it is imperative for these Members to be persuaded to back the Senate bill. One way to achieve the magic number of 218 votes would be to promise Stupak backers that separate legislation codifying the amendment (and other differences between the House and Senate bills) would be taken up separately through reconciliation. Assuming a deal can get done, I have identified and broken into groups the 48 Democratic Members — 45 of whom voted for Stupak — who would determine the fate of health care if Democratic leaders chose to take this route.Retirees. The five retirees who opposed the first House bill can and should vote for the Senate bill without worry about the electoral consequences. They are Reps. Marion Berry (Ark.), Vic Snyder (Ark.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.), John Tanner (Tenn.) and Brian Baird (Wash.). Generally Liberal-to-Moderate Members. A large group of Stupak supporters who backed the House bill must heed pressure to back the Senate bill. This includes Reps. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Joe Baca (Calif.), Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Mike Michaud (Maine), Richard Neal (Mass.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Dale Kildee (Mich.), Tim Ryan (Ohio), James Langevin (R.I.) and Ciro Rodriguez (Texas). Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) won’t dare vote against health care again.Chairmen and Senior Members. Chairmen wield great power, but they serve at the pleasure of leadership. Despite the support for Stupak among several chairmen, they can be expected to vote with the leadership in such a titanic vote. This list includes Reps. James Oberstar (Minn.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), John Murtha (Pa.), John Spratt (S.C.), Silvestre Reyes (Texas), Solomon Ortiz (Texas), Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.) and David Obey (Wis.). Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the prickly Agriculture chairman, voted against the final House health care bill; he must be told to vote for the Senate bill or face strong consequences. They Already Voted for It Once. Pelosi can argue to vulnerable Members who voted for the House bill that regardless of how they vote on the Senate bill, they will still be attacked in the fall. This group includes Reps. John Salazar (Colo.), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Baron Hill (Indiana), Mark Schauer (Mich.), Bill Owens (N.Y.), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Charlie Wilson (Ohio), Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Tom Perriello (Va.). Take One for the Team. Freshman Rep. John Adler (N.J.) voted against the House bill, but he should be told he has no political future if he votes no again. Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.) opposed the House bill because he is running for governor, but his vote is needed. Reps. Allen Boyd (Fla.) and Bob Etheridge (N.C.) are veterans who can politically afford to vote yes.Key Members. Several Members have strong personal convictions on the abortion issue. Persuading them to vote for the bill will go a long way with their colleagues. Stupak’s vote is the most critical one, and Pelosi might be able to get it by re-empowering Stupak’s once-active Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee after it was declawed following Stupak’s decision to back Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) in his fight for the gavel against current Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). Reps. Jerry Costello (Ill.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Jim Cooper (Tenn.) also fit into this category. Our count finds that with a tremendous deal of arm-twisting and assuming all the other Members who backed the bill the first time stay in line, there will be a handful more than the 218 votes needed for passage.This is the best possible outcome for Democrats. This breakdown gives them enough votes for a majority and provides cover to the most vulnerable Members. Nonetheless, it is not a guarantee that the bill will be passed because, unfathomably, Democrats still do not understand what is on the line or have any apparent sense of urgency. The political stakes are clear. The House must pass the Senate bill. There is no more time, and the majority that Democrats fought so hard to achieve will be gone in an instant if they fail.Mark Greenbaum, a writer and attorney in Washington, D.C., is a frequent contributor to Roll Call.