Pelosi: I have the votes to pass health bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday there is “no question” that she has the votes to pass healthcare reform legislation even as key Democrats retreated from their predictions of progress.

But Democratic opponents of the bill said Pelosi’s vote count was somewhere between wildly optimistic and dead wrong.

ADVERTISEMENT
“I don’t know who’s doing her vote counting, but she doesn’t have the votes,” said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who has worked with the band of centrist Blue Dog Democrats blocking the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“They’re 100 votes away on a good day,” said another Democratic member.

Republicans mocked Pelosi’s assertion, sending out a list documenting 42 House Democrats who have said they oppose or have concerns about the bill. But the list includes some members who will almost certainly vote for the measure, such as House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Regardless, the stalled health bill is a major test of Pelosi’s leadership. And unless she gets it moving soon, Republicans will claim victory throughout August and into September.

Pelosi said if Democrats cannot reach agreement within their ranks by July 31, she thinks they should work into their planned August recess.

“I think 70 percent of the American people would want that,” Pelosi said. “I want a bill.”

That stance contradicts House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who said Tuesday that he didn’t see any point in staying into August if Democrats haven’t reached consensus on a bill by then.

Leadership aides said that in their weekly Monday meeting, Pelosi and Hoyer never discussed what to do if they didn’t have the votes by the end of July.

In an interview on Fox News on Wednesday, Hoyer said, “We’re very hopeful and we believe we’ll be able to pass a healthcare bill next week.”

With Senate Finance Committee leaders still ironing out their bill behind closed doors, the Senate will not be voting on healthcare reform before the August recess, as initially planned.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Wednesday told The Hill, “We’re going to take a little longer to get it right. Initially we had hoped for a full vote by [the recess], but I don’t think it’s going to be possible.”

Some Democrats are extremely frustrated that Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has not introduced a bill. Asked on Wednesday if he is feeling pressure from the White House, Baucus responded, “No, I’m not.”

With the GOP seizing political momentum, Obama administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, appeared on several cable news networks making the case for revamping the nation’s health system.

Meanwhile, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday announced that he and the Obama administration have agreed to create an independent commission to set reimbursement rates for healthcare providers in the government-run “public plan.”

The seven Blue Dogs who have been holding up consideration of the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee have said they support the idea of a commission as a way to rein in healthcare costs.

But that concession has not won over the Blue Dogs and Waxman’s  negotiations with the group are ongoing. Waxman’s committee was initially scheduled to have a final vote on healthcare reform on Wednesday. Waxman said he hopes to resume his committee markup on Thursday.

“We have not resolved our issues. But we’re going to get back together and continue discussions,” Waxman said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Waxman had angered the seven Blue Dogs earlier in the day by announcing a deal on the independent commission. They felt the announcement was premature.

“They felt he was trying to box them in,” said a Blue Dog member.

Waxman’s press release subsequently disappeared from his panel’s website. A committee spokesperson did not comment by press time.

Leadership aides say that even if Waxman can resolve the concerns of the Blue Dogs, there are plenty more troubles awaiting him in committee and on the floor, including a tax on the wealthy to help pay for the $1 trillion cost of the bill.

“There’s so many problems beyond the Blue Dogs,” said a leadership aide. “There’s regional disparity. The pay-for is a train wreck. The committee might want to blame the Blue Dogs. But the Blue Dogs have wanted to engage and they haven’t.”

Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), who represents a conservative-leaning district, said, “The free-market principles and cost-control suggestions made by my fellow fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats and many Republicans were almost all rejected.”

Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.), who like Minnick is being targeted in the 2010 cycle by Republicans, expressed frustration at House leaders for fast-tracking the legislation: “This is a very, very complicated issue. The bill was dropped last Tuesday. It is not even out of all of the committees and we are already talking about on voting on this.”

In more signs of trouble, a diverse group of Democrats, including Blue Dogs and progressives, sent Waxman a letter urging that the measure be re-written to include legislation by Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) that would provide incentives for quality care rather than  volume of care.

And the full Minnesota delegation sent Obama a letter declaring that reimbursement rates for Medicare in Minnesota are “no longer tolerable,” spelling more trouble for a public option based on Medicare.

Other leadership offices started to offer up how leaders will explain if the House goes home without voting on a healthcare bill, despite setting a July 31 deadline.

“The focus should be on how far we’ve come. We’ve come a lot further than anyone would have expected,” said a Democratic aide. “The important thing is that members and the groups stay on offense in August. August is generally a time that legislation ends up dying.”

Meanwhile, Democratic liberals are getting worried by constant negotiation with Blue Dogs and Pelosi’s statements that what the more conservative Senate Finance Committee does could influence the bill.

“We have to stay on our toes,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “We know what we want and we don’t want to get rolled.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who leads the charge for the Progressive Caucus on healthcare, said liberals have been reminding their Blue Dog colleagues that they might be the ones stopping a bill if a public option is watered down.

“A number of us have conveyed to the Blue Dogs that there are 82 people who are insisting on a ‘robust’ public option,” Schakowsky said.



Michael M. Gleeson, J. Taylor Rushing and Jeffrey Young contributed to this article.