By Molly K. Hooper - 03/23/10 07:45 PM EDT
Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted to persuade on-the-fence Democrats to vote for the healthcare reform bill that narrowly passed the House on Sunday.
Lawmakers told The Hill that Clinton, who failed to convince the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass healthcare reform in 1994, was active in whipping votes for the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
But that thinking didn’t prove to be accurate.
Clinton called Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) over the weekend to ask him reconsider his planned “no” vote.
Lynch had the conversation on the balcony off the House Speaker’s Lobby, overlooking a chanting crowd of protesters, he said.
Lynch added that Clinton, whom he described as a “good friend,” could not change his mind.
The Massachusetts Democrat was one of 34 Democrats to vote no on Sunday. Lynch endorsed Clinton over Obama in the 2008 presidential primary.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who was among the final holdouts, said that Lynch wasn't alone in hearing from Clinton.
“I was talking to one member who was called by the president, the vice president, Secretary Clinton and seven other Cabinet members, so they were calling in everybody," Stupak said, refusing to reveal that member’s name.
A spokesman for Clinton could not be immediately reached for comment.
Clinton battled Obama on healthcare issues throughout their bitter primary clash. During the campaign, Obama criticized Clinton’s idea for an individual mandate, but as president, he embraced it.
The mandate is in the bill Obama signed into law on Tuesday.
Lynch said the whipping operation to turn his vote was so intense, "it got to the point where I said, 'I’m waiting for a call from my own mother.' They were working everybody around me.”
Lynch told the Boston Globe recently that the health measure is “a very good bill for insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies … But it’s not good for the average American.”
The congressman, who also opposes the so-called Cadillac tax, was a proponent of Stupak’s language on abortion.
Desperate for votes, the Obama administration called on labor leaders to approach Lynch, a former president of Ironworkers Local 7 in Boston.
The current head of the International Ironworkers Union, who was the head of the national organization when Lynch was in the union, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka approached Lynch.
“They were very courteous calls and the chats with Rich Trumka were very professional,” Lynch said.
High-ranking House members approached Lynch, including the Speaker, civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
“Steny tried to emphasize the historic nature of the vote to me. He’s a friend, so he was interested in what I was doing for my own benefit, not only for the bill. And I had a long conversation with Speaker Pelosi around the issue as well,” he explained.
Still, Lynch stood firmly against the Senate-passed bill. Leaders did win his vote on the reconciliation package, though only after they decided to have the lower chamber vote on the Senate bill first.
“It was actually Saturday night that I bought reconciliation based on the order of the votes,” Lynch said.
“When the other bill had passed, I was firmly against that bill; I wasn’t against fixing the bill once the bill passed. The reconciliation bill was to strip out some of the things I didn’t like. As a former union president, it pushed back the date of that Cadillac tax on union health plans. So I thought, 'OK, this thing has passed, how can I make it better?' And that’s really what my goal will be.”
On Saturday, leaders “were going to do reconciliation first. I couldn’t get my head around that, because how can you reconcile a bill if you vote for that before you vote for the bill? So, I said I would have to vote against reconciliation if you do it in that order. But I said, ‘If you give us a straight up-or-down vote on the bill itself and then if that passes, I can review what reconciliation really means.’ ”