Clyburn disputes authenticity of list indicating direction on healthcare votes

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) is disputing the accuracy and authenticity of a survey reported by several media outlets, including The Hill, indicating that the most liberal version of a public health insurance option lacks the votes to pass.

"That document did not come from our office," said Kristie Greco, a spokeswoman for Clyburn.

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Greco did not publicly dispute the numbers in the list that show 47 Democrats would vote against the so-called "robust" or Medicare-based government plan. If Republicans unite against a bill, as they are expected to do on healthcare, it would take only 39 Democrats to defeat it.

The survey also indicates that 20 members are "leaning yes," 12 are "undecided" and eight are "leaning no." That leaves 168 members, a clear majority of House Democrats, as yes votes.

Sources indicated that the numbers on the list are accurate or close to accurate, but that some lawmakers' positions are listed incorrectly. Greco on Tuesday told the Plumline blog that the public option favored by liberals lacks the votes to pass.

"We currently do not have the votes for a robust public option,” she said.

The Hill posted the list Tuesday night, but removed it after confirming questions about its authenticity.

The names on the list do raise questions. For example, Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) is listed as a no. But Altmire says he's told leadership that he's fine with a Medicare-based public option. He opposes the bill as it stands because of cost and because it includes an income surtax.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) is listed as "leaning no," even though she and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) co-authored an op-ed earlier this month supporting the "robust" option. It was titled, "Why We're Breaking With the Blue Dogs on the Public Option."

Some members who oppose the bill out of concern that it would allow tax dollars to fund abortions are also listed as no votes on the Medicare-based option.

The list arose out of a contentious meeting between Clyburn and leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.). Leaders have challenged liberals to round up support for their version of the public option, and Clyburn's numbers indicate they don't have the 218 votes they need.

It is highly unusual for a member of leadership to share detailed "whip counts," including names, with rank-and-file members, leadership aides said.

The public option has caused a bitter split between the party's liberal wing and its centrists. Leaders such as Clyburn and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are caught in the middle. Pelosi in particular favors a Medicare-based public option, but she doesn't want to take a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes to pass.

The Progressive Caucus is adamantly pressing for what it calls the "robust" public option, which would set reimbursement for physicians at Medicare rates plus 5 percent.

Many centrist Democrats, who say hospitals and physicians in their districts are already underpaid by Medicare, want a plan whose administrators would negotiate rates with each provider. Other centrist Democrats, along with Republicans, oppose the public option entirely, contending that it would put private insurers out of business.

In July, 60 liberal lawmakers threatened to vote against the bill if it included the "negotiated rates" language, a compromise made with several centrist Blue Dog Democrats to get the bill out of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Some signers indicated privately that they wouldn't vote to block President Barack Obama's priority legislation, but wanted to show their opposition to the compromise.

But it wouldn't take all 60. One whip count has shown that 23 Democrats intend to vote against the bill regardless, according to a lawmaker involved in the counting. That means that 13 hard-line liberals voting against the bill could defeat it.

Liberals contend that leaders such as Clyburn are giving up too easily. For starters, they say the leadership shouldn't be asking members if they support a Medicare-based public option. Instead, they should be asking members if that version will definitely cause them to vote no.

They look at the list, and by putting the "leaning yes" members and "undecided" members together with some of those they believe were wrongly listed as against it, they come up with about 207. A concerted effort by leadership, they say, could put the "robust" option over the top.


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