Nancy Pelosi has a problem. A bare 220 members of the House voted to pass her health care bill. Only one of those 220 was a Republican–Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA)–and he’s since defected. And several of the 219 Democrats, for one reason or another, won’t be there this time around. Reps. Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) have abdicated their seats. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) passed away. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has promised to bolt over the Senate health care bill’s abortion provision, which he views as too lenient, and he’s promised to bring other pro-life Dems with him.
That leaves Pelosi at a deficit. Because of vacancies, she’ll likely only need 216 votes to pass the Senate health care bill, but she’s short by an unknown number of votes. And she’ll have to fill that hole with the votes of members who opposed reform the first time around. They’re not exactly a willing bunch, but Pelosi has 38 members to mine from.Of that bunch she’s looking into two distinct camps to find potential flips: retiring members, and freshman–even from vulnerable districts–over whom the party has the most leverage.
The Associated Press has identified nine “no” votes who now say they’re now undecided: retiring Reps. Brian Baird (D-WA), John Tanner (D-TN), and Bart Gordon (D-TN); freshmen Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), Frank Kratovil (D-MD), Scott Murphy (D-NY), Glenn Nye (D-VA), and Michael McMahon (D-NY); and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA). Before the special election in Massachusetts, another freshman, Betsy Markey (D-CO) was keeping an open mind, and vulnerable sophomore Jason Altmire (D-PA), has said positive things about the Senate bill.
All of these young members represent vulnerable districts. But though they won by a range of margins, many of their districts only narrowly went for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Some went for Obama.
Many of them have been rattled by the vitriol of the fight over health care and the public option. Yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said one thing that might ease some of them in to changing their minds is that the public option isn’t part of the Senate health care bill.
“I think the Senate bill, which is now the center of the President’s consideration, I think you had a lot of people who indicated they’d like the Senate bill better,” Hoyer told me yesterday. “It doesn’t have the public option that gave a number of people concern. But there’s still a way’s to go.”
It’s unclear how many of these members Pelosi–with an assist from President Obama–can flip, and it’s equally unclear how many she’ll need. But she’ll need some of them. And figuring out which ones could get tricky.