As Democrats focus on the fight ahead on health care in the U.S. House, they have only one number in their heads: 218 votes, a majority needed for approval of the bill.
Can they fashion a majority in the House on health care? Of course they can. Could they suffer a humiliating defeat as well? Absolutely.
The big job right now for Democratic leaders is to get their people to vote for whatever the final bill is, and limit their losses among Blue Dogs, Democrats in swing districts and red states, and maybe most importantly, among freshman Democrats.
In the three House Committees that approved health care bills, there were 11 Democrats who voted no on the three different health reform bills.
Energy and Commerce: Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA).
Ways and Means: Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and Rep. John Tanner (D-TN).
Education and Labor: Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV).
The question Democrats have to ask is will these eleven lawmakers stay as ‘no’ votes, or can they be brought back to the fold?
Right now, Democrats hold an advantage of 256-178, with one vacancy in the House. That seat will soon go to the Dems, so let’s just keep the number forty in mind.
If Democrats lose 40 votes in the House – and no Republicans vote yes – then the health care bill would go down to defeat.
If you think those eleven members are going to vote no, then the “magic number” drops to 29.
Last Friday, one Democrat who voted for the bill in the Ways and Means Committee, suddenly announced that he would now vote ‘no.’
“I have wanted for seven years to vote for a bill that would improve the quality and availability of health care,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), “But after analyzing this legislation for two weeks, I have come to the conclusion that the House bill is the wrong approach and unless it changes in a substantial way, it will not have my vote on the floor.”
Davis is an interesting person to watch here, as he is running for Governor of Alabama, which means he has to face a statewide electorate, not just his own House district next year.
Maybe that number is now at 28.
What about other Blue Dogs? I guess if I had to list a few that would jump out at me right away as possible ‘no’ votes, I would start with two from Davis’ home state of Alabama, Rep. Bobby Bright and Rep. Parker Griffith.
I would almost bet that one ‘no’ vote will come from Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi. He got into a verbal spat last week with one anti-tax group that said he would vote for the health care bill, calling Americans for Tax Reform, “lying sacks of scum.”
“I am opposed to the current health care reform bills being debated in Congress,” Taylor says on his House web site.
For the sake of argument, let’s say the number needed for opponents is now 25.
Other possible ‘no’ votes might include Taylor’s fellow Mississippi Rep. Travis Childers, whose web site describes him as “A pro-gun, pro-life Mississippian.”
Then there is Rep. Walt Minnick, who somehow won the Democrats a seat from the state of Idaho. Let’s just say I don’t see him voting ‘aye’ anytime soon.
So we’re at 23 now.
Let’s throw in a few more possible ‘no’ votes, like Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia and Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina.
We could be down to 20 maybe.
I’ve left out a bunch of other Blue Dogs who will certainly be in play, but some of them also star in another category – freshmen Democrats, like Rep. Glenn Nye of Virginia and others.
They include, Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland, who will be under extreme pressure to support the bill from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of his home state.
There is Rep. Susan Kosmas of Florida, who has been under fire from the GOP since she won over a GOP seat last year.
Another one to watch is Rep. Steve Driehaus of Ohio, who took a Republican seat in Cincinnati.
There are two other freshmen in Virginia, Rep. Tom Perriello and Rep. Gerry Connolly.
Connolly has already publicly registered his opposition to new taxes in the bill, and raised other questions about the reform details as well.
So while the public face of this debate will be important, the behind the scenes arm twisting is just as fascinating as well. There will be a lot of people counting votes in the weeks ahead, me included.
Can Democrats lose this? Of course they can. Can they win it? After watching them break enough arms and wheel and deal their way to victory on Cap and Trade, the answer is yes.
What happens back home during Congress’ August break will determine which way this goes.
And don’t forget the most important group in this fight – seniors. If they break one way or the other, they can determine who wins or loses.