By Mike Soraghan and Michael M. Gleeson - 09/08/09 10:18 AM EDT
At least 23 House Democrats already have told constituents or hometown media that they oppose the massive healthcare overhaul touted by President Barack Obama.
If Republicans offer the blanket opposition they’ve promised, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can afford to lose only 38 members of her 256-member caucus and still pass the bill.
Many other Democratic members, including those berated by protesters at raucous town hall meetings in August, are still undecided.
A lot could change before the vote, expected late this month.
Voting against a president from your own party is starkly different from defying a Speaker or a committee chairman, and Obama is stepping up his involvement, starting with a speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.
The Pelosi camp, for its part, sees no reason to be discouraged.
“The Congress will pass and the president will sign this year health insurance reform that will lower costs, retain choice, improve quality and expand coverage,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.
Pelosi has vowed to include in the bill a government-run insurance plan, commonly called a “public option,” to compete with private insurers.
Many centrist opponents of the bill don’t like the public option, or don’t want to vote on such a controversial plan when it’s unlikely to become law.
There’s a chance the House bill won’t include it. Obama has shifted from saying it must be in the bill to saying he wants it in the bill. House leaders have said they want to see a bill from the Senate Finance Committee before the vote, and that bill is unlikely to include a public option.
But deleting the public option won’t make life easier for Pelosi.
At least 60 liberal Democrats have pledged to vote against a healthcare bill with no public option, which they view as watered-down reform.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has said dropping the public option completely would lose 100 Democratic votes.
Even Pelosi’s critics and skeptics have to concede that she has almost never lost in the House since becoming Speaker. The main exception is the first vote on the $700 billion bailout package requested by the Bush administration, which later passed.
She twisted arms one by one in July to pass a climate change bill despite deep skepticism among centrists and Democrats from manufacturing states. But some of the public backlash from that has frightened and angered centrist and vulnerable members.
Democratic critics have different reasons for opposing the bill, and their opposition varies in its vehemence.
Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) a supporter of a “single-payer” system, opposes it because the public option isn’t strong enough. Other “single-payer” supporters in the party’s left wing could balk as well.
Some are definitive. There’s Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), a Blue Dog who is one of the most conservative members of the Democratic Caucus. He told a town hall meeting last month, “I would hope by now that everyone in this room knows that I am not going to vote for the healthcare plan.”
Rep. John Adler (D-N.J.), a vulnerable Democrat, was equally blunt. He told a group of constituents last month, “The bill that’s coming through the House, with or without the public option, isn’t good for America.”
Others, such as Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), say they can’t support the bill “in its current form.” The bill is widely expected to change before it goes to the House floor, but if Pelosi keeps the public option in the bill, many centrists will see it as a left-leaning bill.
Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who unseated an incumbent in 2008 by a scant 745 votes, said at a town hall meeting , “I am a ‘no’ now, but I really want to get to a ‘yes.’ ”
And plenty of others aren’t ready to take a position.
“I’ll do the best I can, but I don’t know what’s the right thing to do yet,” Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) told the Los Angeles Times after a town hall meeting. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t even know what we’re going to be voting on.”
The following Democratic lawmakers have indicated opposition to the healthcare plan moving through the House.
John Adler (N.J.)
Jason Altmire (Pa.)
John Barrow (Ga.)
Dan Boren (Okla.)
Rick Boucher (Va.)
Allen Boyd (Fla.)
Bobby Bright (Ala.)
Travis Childers (Miss.)
Jim Costa (Calif.)
Henry Cuellar (Texas)
Parker Griffith (Ala.)
Frank Kratovil (Md.)
Betsy Markey (Colo.)
Eric Massa (N.Y.)
Jim Matheson (Utah)
Charlie Melancon (La.)
Walt Minnick (Idaho)
Tom Perriello (Va.)
Earl Pomeroy (N.D.)
Heath Shuler (N.C.)
Bart Stupak (Mich.)
John Tanner (Tenn.)
Gene Taylor (Miss.)