Cantor released a memo to the press Wednesday morning in which he said that the Democrats' new plan to merge the two bills under budget reconciliation rules in the Senate might make it impossible to pass through the House.
The House passed its healthcare bill in November by a count of 220-215. This time around, Cantor predicts that Democrats will muster as few as 203 votes, well short of the 217 now needed to pass the bill due to recent vacancies.
The Virginia Republican said that three new House vacancies, looser abortion provisions contained in the president's proposal than the original House bill and political risks posed by using the reconciliation tactic will force Democrats who voted for the House bill in November to switch their yes votes to no.
Here's a portion of the memo:
With all due respect to my vote-counting counterpart on the Democrat side, the House Republican Whip Team and I think he’s wrong. Surprisingly, someone in the White House agrees with us. Asked by reporters yesterday whether the House could pass the president’s proposal, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded, “I don’t know.” That’s because House Democrats are farther away from securing the votes to pass a government health care bill today than they have ever been.
Americans have overwhelming and repeatedly asked Democrats to shelve their take-over and start again. We believe that fact will continue to weigh heavy on House Democrats, and as a result, Speaker Pelosi will not be able to muster the votes needed to pass a Senate reconciliation bill in the House.
Cantor's memo seeks to cast doubt on the Democrats' ability to push forward with their plan, a move seeking to cast doubt on the reconciliation plan around which Democrats appear to have coalesced.
Using the reconciliation process would allow the Senate to pass the fixes with a simple majority in the House, bypassing a Republican filibuster.
The Republican whip cited Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) rebuke of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform proposal, issued Monday, because it upheld the Senate's abortion provisions, which are not as restrictive as Stupak's amendment to the House bill. Cantor said at least 12 House members could switch their votes based on the abortion provisions, including the only Republican to vote for the bill, Rep. Joseph Cao (La.)
Those switches theoretically would bring the yes votes down to 208. Cantor also says three House vacancies would bring the count down even further, to 205. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) has stepped down from the House and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) recently passed away.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) has said he will leave the House by the end of the month to focus full time on his gubernatorial campaign, but he has not officially stepped down yet, meaning he could end up voting on the health bill fixes should Pelosi convince him to remain until the House votes.
Cantor estimates that up to five additional House members from swing states whose senators could change their vote under reconciliation rules will also switch their votes, bringing the total down to 200.
But Cantor’s office seems to have made an error and did not account for listing Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) under the abortion list, as it did with Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.). This would bring the count to 201.
The whip predicted that three retiring Democrats who previously faced tough reelection campaigns but are now retiring — Reps. Brian Baird (Wash.), John Tanner (Tenn.) and Bart Gordon (Tenn.) — could switch their votes from no to yes, but that would still leave Democrats with 203 (or 204) votes by Cantor’s count.
In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) accused Cantor of "playing games” but did not say whether House Democrats have the votes to pass the president’s fixes.
Clyburn previously predicted that the House would pass the new package by a wider margin than it did its original bill.
The full list of potential vote-switchers is:
Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.)
Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.)
Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.)
Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio)
Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.)
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio)
Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.)
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.)
Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.)
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.)
Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio)
Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.)
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.)
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.)
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.)