Democrats Close In as Health Vote Approaches

Posted March 20, 2010 at 10:22pm

The ranks of undecided House Democrats continued to shrink late Saturday night, with leaders confident they would find the votes even though they still appeared to be a handful short.

Leadership’s latest setback came from Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), who voted against the original House bill, declaring his “no” vote.

Other setbacks Saturday included Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) flipping from “yes” on the original health care bill to “no,” and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) staying in the “no” column.

A key group of undeclared Members included retiring Reps. Marion Berry (D-Ark.), Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and John Tanner (D-Tenn.), all of whom leaders hope will be with them in the end. Berry backed the bill the first time around, while Baird and Tanner would be pickups.

There are no other easy targets for leadership among Democrats who voted “no” in November.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who remained undeclared, has refused steadfastly to discuss the bill with reporters and hails from a conservative part of the state.

That means leadership has to limit its losses among the remaining undeclared Democrats who voted for the original House bill, a group that largely consists of opponents of abortion rights led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

The White House was trying to placate at least a few of those Members with an executive order reiterating that no federal funds would be spent on abortions under the bill. Drafts of that order were circulating around the Capitol on Saturday night.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that if an executive order was sufficient to restart stem-cell research, it ought to be sufficient to put to rest the abortion controversy. But he said late Saturday that it had not yet been resolved.

“It’s still an issue,” he said.

With the undeclared dwindling toward the single digits, Democratic vote-counters were facing a narrowing path to 216, the number of “yes” votes needed to pass the measure.

The hope, as of Saturday evening, was that the executive order would bring aboard at least three in the Stupak camp — Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) — and maybe one more, between West Virginia Reps. Nick Rahall (D) and Alan Mollohan (D). And leaders were eager to lock down Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), who also supported House passage.

Stupak, who once spoke for a dozen Democrats who were prepared to vote against the bill unless his strict abortion restrictions on insurance coverage were adopted, told reporters Saturday that his group was down to six, and he did not know if that would be enough to block the bill.

Stupak’s demand for a vote on an enrolling resolution incorporating his language into the Senate bill was strongly rejected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Saturday morning.

Other headaches continued to plague leadership, including Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), who senior aides said went on a fundraising trip to Florida on Saturday — skipping House votes — and is listed by Democratic vote counters as a “no” even if she does show up Sunday.