By Mike Soraghan - 11/06/09 01:18 AM EST
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted she will get the votes needed to pass healthcare reform as Republicans scrambled Thursday to obtain a cost estimate they believe could derail the bill.
Pelosi insisted “we will” get the 218 votes Dems needed for passage. She must find supporters within her 258-member caucus because Republicans are united against it.
President Barack Obama did some lobbying of his own Thursday, inviting members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the White House to discuss their concerns about covering immigrants. The president’s big push comes Saturday when he is to give a final pep rally to Democratic members in the Cannon House Office Building.
Meanwhile, Republicans are pressing Rick Foster, Medicare’s chief actuary, for a score of the House bill before the weekend vote. Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Wally Herger (R-Calif.) have requested the cost estimate, but Foster told The Hill on Thursday that it is unclear if he will finish it within the next couple of days.
Herger said that he’s “putting all the pressure we can” on Foster to get the numbers.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has put the cost of the measure at $894 billion over 10 years, noting that it would reduce the deficit by $30 billion over the same time period. Republicans believe the price tag of the bill is much higher.
In an e-mail to The Hill, Foster said, “ We’re trying to have it ready before the House vote, but I don’t know if we’ll succeed. There are a number of new or modified provisions in the bill…and the legislative language has only been publicly available for a short time.”
House Republicans believe a high score from Foster may convince some on-the-fence Democrats to reject the bill.
Republicans are not the only ones rallying members to vote no.
Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), a Blue Dog who declared his opposition months ago, told Fox News on Thursday, “I’ve been spending a lot of time with my members who are kind of going from pillar to post saying, ‘Look, we don’t need this; we can’t afford this. Let’s think it through. Let’s do some bullets that make the system better rather than this shotgun approach.”
Meanwhile, as the newest member of the House, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), was finishing his first speech to the chamber on Thursday, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) was pacing.
Doyle was anxious for the speech to end so he could resume his lobbying of anti-abortion rights Democrats.
As Garamendi concluded his address, Doyle sprang into action and was soon talking to Rep. David Wu (D-Wash.).
“It’s a process,” Doyle said as he bolted from the House floor and ducked into a leadership meeting in the suites of the Speaker. “Everybody has a different concern.”
Doyle is a senior lawmaker, but he usually doesn’t attend leadership meetings. What’s different this time is that Doyle is an abortion-rights opponent who wants to get the health overhaul passed.
That has made him a key broker in the final days of whipping, or rounding up votes, for one of the toughest votes for Democrats since they won control of Congress in 2006.
“He wants to see healthcare for this country, but he’s pro-life, and he doesn’t want to see taxpayer funds go to abortion,” said Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), who wrote the compromise legislation for which Doyle was trying to win votes. “But how do we get that ball moving forward?”
A host of concerns have come up as the countdown to a Saturday night vote ticks down.
In addition to abortion, Hispanic members are concerned that illegal immigrants will be excluded from buying insurance on the bill’s exchanges. Blue
Dogs are concerned about the cost. And vulnerable members in conservative districts are wringing their hands over Tuesday’s election results, in which Republicans reclaimed two governors’ mansions from Democrats.
The abortion compromise was turning into a contest of wills, with the U.S. Conference of Bishops on one side and Pelosi, a devout Catholic and a supporter of abortion rights, on the other.
Ellsworth said at least three Democratic abortion-rights opponents have agreed to support his language, but many others won’t because the bishops don’t support it.
“Other members felt like they needed the … blessing of the Catholic bishops,” Ellsworth said.
And the bishops, whose representatives he met with Thursday morning, are insisting on an amendment authored weeks ago by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), which would block any subsidies from paying for abortion. Abortion-rights supporters said that could mean that insurers might have to end abortion coverage in order to get access to the customers in the exchanges.
Ellsworth has come under attack from some quarters of the anti-abortion-rights community for drafting what they consider a weaker alternative to the Stupak language.
One group accused Ellsworth of “bayoneting” them “in the back.” But Ellsworth defended himself, saying he believed Stupak’s amendment wouldn’t pass, and the bill as it stands might pass, which he didn’t find acceptable. Stupak, however, believes he would have a majority of members support his measure if it were granted a floor vote.
“When you’re going into battle, you need to have a contingency plan,” Ellsworth said.
Doyle worked the floor on Thursday like a candidate at a Rotary Club.
As a vote on unemployment compensation wound down, Doyle waved Ellsworth to his seat. Their conversation was so consuming that Doyle almost didn’t register a subsequent vote in time.
Doyle lobbied Democratic abortion-rights opponents one by one, including Reps. Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Tim Ryan (Ohio), Jim Langevin (R.I.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.).
Then he went to talk to Pelosi. Doyle talked with his hands, and Pelosi put her hands on her hips and frowned. After that, Doyle sat down with Clyburn.
Nearby, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), an abortion-rights supporter, who brokered the abortion language in the pending bill, talked with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). And Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the sponsor of the healthcare package, was leaning over Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), an abortion-rights opponent, who had said he couldn’t support the Ellsworth language.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), one of the chief deputy whips, walked the floor with a clipboard.
Bob Cusack, Molly K. Hooper and Jeffrey Young contributed to this article.