Dems try to build on healthcare momentum in face of obstacles

Momentum built Wednesday for a weekend healthcare vote as several House Democrats shifted their stances and said they would support their leadership.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was the most high-profile pickup, but he wasn’t alone.

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Several other Democrats, including Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), Dan Maffei (N.Y.), Dale Kildee (Mich.), Jim Oberstar (Minn.) and Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) also moved from the undecided column on Tuesday and Wednesday, adding to the sense that momentum is now on the Democrats’ side.

House leaders are aiming for a weekend vote on the Senate healthcare bill and a package of changes to that legislation that would still have to be approved by the Senate. They are still considering the use of a complicated and controversial rule that would “deem” the Senate bill as passed without actually holding a roll call vote on the measure.

Some Democrats said Kucinich's shift represents a significant change in the mood of the Democratic caucus.



"I sense a sea change where people are trying to find a way to vote yes and explain their yes vote, much more so than expressing their doubts," said Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), who has helped House leaders tout the merits of the healthcare package  to the caucus.


"I think Mr. Kucinich's endorsement this morning is very consequential, and we're very thankful for it because he represents a lot of Americans who feel dispossessed from the political process," Andrews said.

Kildee’s public vote of confidence in the abortion language in the Senate bill was particularly important given opposition from Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who says he is leading a group of 12 lawmakers who will vote against the Senate bill because it does not do enough to restrict the flow of federal subsidies for abortion services.

Kildee, who has a long record of opposing abortion rights, said he was “convinced” the Senate healthcare bill would prevent federal money from being used for abortion, maintaining a U.S. law known as the Hyde Amendment.

Separately, a group of nuns representing 60 Catholic orders urged support for the legislation. They said it was false to suggest the Senate bill will not stop federal subsidies from being used for abortion services.

House leaders seemed more confident of a weekend vote, though when it will come was anyone’s guess.

At press time, Democrats were still waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to release a score of the healthcare bill with the changes proposed by Presidenr Barack Obama. Leaders are expected to give lawmakers 72 hours to review the CBO score and legislative language before moving to a final vote.

The later the score is released, the less time Democrats will have to get their caucus together and hold a vote before Obama leaves the country on Sunday for an overseas trip.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said a Sunday vote on the bill was now a possibility.

“We’re going to do it as soon as it’s ready to be brought to the floor, as soon as we have the CBO numbers that we can have confidence in, and I would say that certainly Saturday and Sunday are possibilities,” Hoyer said after a signing ceremony for the $18 billion jobs bill approved by Congress.

Hoyer said the CBO score is taking some time because “it’s complicated,” adding that Democrats want to make sure that the healthcare legislation will be paid for and will not add to the deficit.

“We made it very clear to all our members and to CBO that we want to make sure that this bill is paid for, does not increase the deficit and, in fact, decreases the deficit over time,” he said.

Republicans continued to decry the process Democrats may use, and their leaders in the House said they would offer a privileged resolution on Thursday to force an up-or-down vote on the Senate healthcare bill. It would prohibit Democrats from passing the Senate legislation with a self-executing rule, which the GOP has coined as the “Slaughter Solution,” after Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

Given the unified opposition of the chamber’s Republicans, Democrats need 216 of their members to support the healthcare package to prevail. They can afford to lose 37 of their members.

According to The Hill’s running whip count, 36 Democrats are now firm or likely “no” votes or are leaning against the measure. Another 49 Democrats are undecided.

Democrats can afford to lose 37 members of their caucus and still win the day, assuming every member of the House votes.

Kucinich had been a “no” vote, but the liberal presidential candidate from 2008 announced at a press conference carried live on cable television that he was switching his position. Kucinich said he still had misgivings about the bill, but that he did not want to cast the deciding vote against healthcare.

“In the past week, it’s been clear that the next vote on healthcare will be quite close,” said Kucinich. He said he would cast his vote “not on the bill as I would like to see it, but as it is.”

Obama flew to Ohio this week with Kucinich on Air Force One, and Kucinich said the presidential visit to his district had underscored “the urgency of this moment.”

An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday showed the country is divided on healthcare, though a sliver more respondents favored Congress approving legislation. Forty-six percent of those responding favored passing healthcare legislation, compared to 45 percent who did not.

This article was originally posted at 2:31 p.m.