Undecided committee chairmen add to pressure on healthcare reform vote

A handful of House committee chairmen are either undecided about or plan to reject the healthcare reform bill that is expected to be voted on as early as next week.

The prospect of several panel chairmen voting against the healthcare bill comes as the White House and Democratic leaders are ramping up their efforts to attract the necessary votes to move the Senate-passed bill. The White House wants the House to clear the bill by March 18 and then have the upper chamber amend the measure through reconciliation.

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A survey conducted by The Hill of more than 100 possible Democratic defectors shows that President Barack Obama and House Democrats have a lot of persuading to do over the next week and a half.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) are firm “no”s on the bill, according to their offices.

Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) are undecided.

Meanwhile, Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), who supports Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) anti-abortion rights language, is also undecided, according to his spokesman. Oberstar wants to back healthcare reform, but is pushing for the Stupak amendment.

The Stupak abortion language is unlikely to be included in the final measure, leading some House committee chairmen to hold back their votes.

In November, eight committee chairmen voted for the Stupak language: Peterson, Skelton, Spratt, Gordon, Rahall, Oberstar, Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (Texas) and Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).


All but Peterson and Skelton voted for the House bill that passed, 220-215, in November.

Skelton, Spratt, Rahall and Obey are in competitive reelection races, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which lists Skelton’s and Spratt’s seats in the “lean Democratic” category and Rahall and Obey as “likely” to stay in Democratic hands. Neither Rahall nor Obey were on Cook’s list last fall.

Obey’s office did not return a phone call on Monday. He is expected to vote for healthcare reform.

Gordon, meanwhile, is retiring in a seat that is likely to be won by the GOP.

According to the survey conducted by The Hill (see chart), there are already 11 firm “no” votes.

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The good news for Democratic leaders, most notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), is that each of the 11 rejected the measure in November. The bad news is that in order to pass the bill, Pelosi will need to change some “no” votes to yes if the Stupak language is not in the final measure.

Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.), who voted yes in November, is leaning no, according to his press secretary Jay Biba.

Biba stated that “from the beginning, Congressman Arcuri has been opposed to the Senate bill. If there are so called ‘guaranteed fixes’ from the Senate through the reconciliation process, Congressman Arcuri would carefully review these changes … and would need some way to ensure that their ‘guarantees’ would absolutely be included in a final bill.”

Some Democrats who voted “no” in November appear to be more adamant “no”s this time around.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who opposed the House version of the healthcare reform bill last year, will break from his campaign for governor to travel to Washington to vote against the final version of the bill.

 Lawmakers seeking higher office are prone to missing roll call votes as they hit the campaign trail, but Davis’s office told The Hill on Monday that the congressman intends to make the trek north from Alabama to cast his vote against the legislation.

 “Congressman Davis will be present for the HC vote and he is a no,” Davis’s communications director, Addie Whisenant, wrote in an e-mail.

 Davis was the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the first Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee to call for Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to step down as chairman of the powerful panel.

 Davis is one of 23 House Democrats to vote against healthcare reform and climate change.

Announcing his “no” vote last year on healthcare, Davis said, “We risk a disaster if we get this wrong.” That announcement was made less than a week before the Nov. 7 vote.

In a bad sign for Democratic leaders, a couple of the 11 firm “no”s in The Hill survey were on the fence days before the Nov. 7, 2009 vote, including Reps. Frank Kratovil (Md.) and Walt Minnick (Idaho).
 

See how House Democrats plan to vote on healthcare.


Jared Allen, Molly K. Hooper, John Owre, Jennifer Swift and Drew Wheatley contributed to this article, which was updated on March 9 at 12:32 p.m.