By Mike Soraghan - 11/03/09 01:07 AM EST
Centrist Democrats in the House are moving toward the “yes” column on healthcare reform, triggering optimism among leadership officials that they will soon have the votes to pass their $894-billion measure.
Other than Rep. Earl Pomeroy’s (D-N.D.) pronouncement in a closed-door caucus meeting, there have been few public conversions. But many of those once considered “no” votes, especially on the question of a “robust” public option, have moved into undecided, “leaning yes,” or are fully supporting the bill.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re in a better spot than we were a week before the climate change vote,” said a Democratic leadership aide, regarding the climate vote that won narrowly with minimal Republican support.
Two committee chairmen, Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) of Transportation and Infrastructure and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) of Science and Technology, were undecided Monday. And Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) was bluntly critical to a Minnesota news outlet and called himself “a pretty firm no.”
One of the most pronounced shifts has been that of Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), a freshman Blue Dog who had been listed as a “no” on a leaked whip survey and remained publicly uncommitted.
When Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rolled out the bill last Thursday, Dahlkemper sat center stage with the pack of lawmakers who came to laud the bill.
Pelosi had pursued her vote vigorously, holding a news conference to announce inclusion of Dahlkemper’s legislation allowing 20-somethings to stay on their parents’ health insurance. And while Dahlkemper hasn’t firmly said “yes,” her public statements have been positive.
“I am proud to be part of this historic legislation that will lower costs and expand affordable healthcare to all Americans,” she said at the event. In a release she said she is reading the bill “to make sure” it’s right for her constituents.
Abortion remains one of the last outstanding issues Pelosi and her fellow leaders need to resolve to secure a majority of support in the House.
Dahlkemper voted with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and 37 other Democrats on a procedural move last summer that almost blocked consideration of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, because of language about abortion in the District of Columbia.
Stupak has cited that vote as evidence that he can block the healthcare bill, which he believes breaks the longstanding ban on federal funding of abortion. Abortion-rights supporters don’t agree, but leaders have not found a fix that both sides can live with. Still, House leaders are optimistic that they will.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily about making Stupak happy,” the leadership aide said. “It’s about making enough members of the caucus comfortable.”
Another closely watched shift is Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who’s been dogged by conservative “tea party” protesters about his position on healthcare.
He’d been saying he was a “no” who wanted to get to “yes.” He’s getting closer, and appears to be leaning yes.
“I am pleased to see major changes in the bill that move us in the right direction,” he said in a statement when the bill was released last week.
He didn’t join Dahlkemper and Pelosi on stage, but Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.) did. Kagen, a physician, had been listed as a “no” on the whip count, which gauged support for the robust, or Medicare-based, public option. But he came out in support after Pelosi dropped that option in favor of a compromise that would order public plan officials to negotiate rates with providers.
“I am working hard to guarantee access to affordable care for all of us, and the Affordable Healthcare for America Act is a huge step in that direction,” said Kagen.
Blue Dog leaders also appear to be warming to the bill, though many have concerns about its price tag. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a co-chair who had sharply criticized the bill when Pelosi was pushing the “robust” version, told her home state media that she’s undecided on the bill.
Another co-chair, Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), has expressed reservations about the cost, but told a hometown audience this weekend “It is time to do this. It is time to step up to the plate and do this.”
And Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a Blue Dog founder who voted against the bill in committee, is now undecided, according to a spokesman.
“It looks like they made some significant improvements,” Shuler said after leaving a meeting of House Democrats. “I think this process has gone very well, but we just need to make sure that we do the right thing for the long term.”
There could still be problems from the left flank. After Pelosi disappointed the left by siding with centrists on the public option, liberal leaders said they will at least demand an up-or-down vote on their Medicare-based version. Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) repeated the demand in a Friday letter to Pelosi. But Pelosi and her lieutenants have indicated that she is not likely to allow amendments.
Below is a chart of selected Democrats and their positions on the House bill based on media accounts, press releases and spokesmen for the lawmakers.
See the updated whip count for the House healthcare reform bill here.
Bob Cusack, Mary Ann Dreas, Samantha Guthrie and Dan Randlett contributed to this article, which was updated at 12:20 p.m. on Nov. 3