By Sam Youngman and Jeffrey Young - 03/16/10 12:47 AM EDT
President Barack Obama on Monday called on Democratic lawmakers to show “courage” by voting for healthcare reform as the House moved one step closer to passing the massive bill.
Most, but not all, Democrats on the Budget Committee voted for the healthcare reconciliation package that cleared the panel 21-16 on Monday. Reps. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) and Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) opposed the package while every committee Republican rejected it.
If the legislation passes the House, the Senate will take up the measure and look to send it to the president before the end of the month. Republicans on both sides of the Capitol are vowing to do everything they can to torpedo the legislation.
Rounding up yes votes in the House is a major challenge for Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democratic leaders.
There are at least three dozen House Democrats who are planning to vote no or are leaning no, according to The Hill’s whip list. If every member votes and all Republicans vote no, 37 defections would lead to a 216-215 tally. Thirty-eight “no” votes would kill the measure.
In a Monday speech in Strongsville, Ohio, Obama publicly called on Ohio Democrats, including Reps. Dennis Kucinich, to vote yes on healthcare reform. Kucinich has previously indicated he is a firm no.
Too many people are “talking about what this means for November,” Obama said, adding, “We need courage.”
Kucinich, a liberal who voted against the healthcare bill the House approved in November, traveled with Obama to the event on Air Force One. Asked by a reporter on the tarmac near the president’s plane if he would change his vote, Kucinich demurred.
But when pressed if he was reconsidering his vote, Kucinich said, “I’m looking forward to hearing what [Obama] has to say.”
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who is undecided on the health measure, also flew on Air Force One. Unlike most on-the-fence Democrats, Kucinich and Fudge are expected to easily win their reelection races this fall.
In a setback for the White House, Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), who is facing a tough reelection this year, indicated Monday he will vote no.
Still, Obama stressed that he is confident that the bill will pass, telling ABC News, “I believe we are going to get the votes, we’re going to make this happen.”
Edwards’s vote against the healthcare bill at the Budget Committee markup was not a surprise, but Boyd had been publicly undecided. Boyd, the co-chairman of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition who is facing a primary challenge, was one of four Democrats to reject the education reform bill that will move with healthcare reform in the reconciliation process. Edwards and Boyd voted no on the House-passed bill last November.
The Budget Committee marked up an old version of the House’s healthcare bill, which the Rules Committee will overwrite with legislation based on Obama’s new plan.
The Rules panel will be responsible for actually marking up the reconciliation language and for determining how to move that bill, which contains “fixes” to the broad Senate-passed healthcare reform bill, and the Senate bill itself.
Pelosi is leaving the door open to using the controversial procedure to move healthcare reform through the House.
At a rare Monday press conference, Pelosi said that no final decisions have been made, but that having the Rules Committee write such a rule for the reconciliation bill is “one option.”
She added, “There are others.”
A Pelosi aide said Democrats are hoping for a Congressional Budget Office score on the reconciliation bill by Tuesday, and are preparing for a weekend vote on that legislation.
Neither the legislative language nor a cost estimate of the reconciliation package had been released by Monday evening.
Pelosi did not directly answer questions about when she intends to have a bill before the full House for a vote.
“When we have a bill, then we will let you know when we intend to vote,” she said. “But when we bring the bill to the floor we will have the votes.”
Pelosi’s comment suggests that Democratic leaders will not look to create votes on the House floor like Republicans did in 2003 on the Medicare prescription drug bill. That roll call lasted three hours and triggered an ethics investigation that admonished then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
The “no” votes from Edwards and Boyd underscore the challenge facing Obama and the House Democratic leadership as they scramble to pull together the 216 House votes. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who sits on the Budget Committee and is publicly undecided, did not vote in the 21-16 roll call.
Over the weekend, Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told McClatchy that he is targeting four Democrats who voted no in 2009: Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), Brian Baird (Wash.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.) and John Boccieri (Ohio).
Gordon and Baird are not seeking reelection. Altmire recently said on Fox News that he has an “open mind.” Boccieri, who is publicly undecided, has said he is not afraid to stand up to his leaders.
House Republicans have hinted that they may seek to delay a final vote on healthcare reform like they did on climate change last year.
During a Monday press conference, Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the Rules Committee, referenced what became known as a fili-Boehner.
Dreier pointed out that Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivered an animated speech on the House floor last June. Boehner expressed outrage that Democrats dropped a 300-page amendment hours before the final vote.
“John Boehner stood up and went through the 300 pages and the mantra ‘Read the bill’ was echoing throughout the country,” Dreier said.
Jared Allen and Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.