Pelosi Picks Off No Votes — But Has Yet To Woo Toughest Reps On Health Care

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March 18, 2010 2:01 p.m.
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The past day and a half have gone pretty well for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yesterday saw a number of in-play Democrats come out in support the final health care reform package, and netted her her first commitment from a member–Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)–who voted against the House health care bill in November. Today, the Congressional Budget Office gave the legislation a winning score, and she won more commitments, and her second and third converts from no-to-yes: Reps. Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Betsy Markey (D-CO).

But here’s the rub: Pelosi still lacks the votes to pass it. Some former supporters of reform continue to say they’ll vote against the current legislation. And though many members are coming around, very few of them are in the elusive pool from which Pelosi needs to draw: Members who voted against reform in round one.

And she’s running out of easy pick-ups.First and foremost is Pelosi’s pro-lifer problem. On that score, there are some signs of optimism: a couple of key pro-life Democrats have come around to the Senate bill’s abortion language, and plan to support the bill, and today, Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN)–a pro-life Senate hopeful–and Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-OH), sounded extremely positive notes about the bill (though he stopped short of offering his full endorsement). But that still leaves Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), and potentially nine or 10 other pro-life Democrats who are threatening to bolt over the health care bill’s abortion language, which they view as too lax.

Then there are the peculiar cases of Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and Michael Arcuri (D-NY). Both men voted for the House bill in November, but are now threatening to vote against the current package.

Taken all together, that means Pelosi’s down by as many as 10 votes–though by most accounts, it’s probably less than that. An optimistic count would have her down five. So the estimated vote count is somewhere between 206 and 212, and Pelosi has to get to 216 to pass the legislation. And though she almost certainly has some votes in her pocket, she has a heavy lift ahead of her. Perhaps the heaviest of her career as Speaker.

That’s why Democrats are pulling out all the stops. President Obama postponed until his trip abroad until June, and is reportedly wooing Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA)–the lone Republican supporter of the House health care bill, who had threatened to defect over abortion. And Pelosi is whipping with every free moment she has.

The clock is now winding down toward an expected Sunday vote. For Pelosi, that’s a mixed blessing. As the moment of truth approaches, wavering members will feel more pressure than ever before the not let this must-pass bill die. But it also means she’s running out of time.

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