Speaker inches closer to 216 despite hurdles

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is now close to achieving the biggest political victory of her career.

After struggling to collect votes earlier this week, Democratic leaders picked up some key votes on Friday. Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.), Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and John Boccieri (D-Ohio) had all been undecided or leaning no, but they all say they will vote yes this weekend.

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Kosmas, Boccieri and Boyd voted against the House healthcare reform bill last year. Boyd's decision to vote yes was Friday's biggest surprise because he voted no earlier this week in the Budget Committee and had reservations with the education reform measure that will move with healthcare reform in the reconciliation process.
 
Likewise, many on Capitol Hill expected Ellsworth, who is running for Senate, to reject the final bill, but on Friday the centrist Indiana Democrat said he will support it.

Boccieri is in a tough reelection race and his vote had been especially targeted by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Other Democrats who came out as yes votes on Friday included Reps. Tim Bishop (N.Y.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Joe Courtney (Conn.), Charlie Wilson (Ohio) and Bob Etheridge (N.C.).

Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), whose reelection race will likely be very challenging, said on Friday he will vote yes if he gets assurances that the Senate will amend the bill through reconciliation. Pelosi recently talked with Perriello on the House floor.

In a Friday afternoon conversation just off the House floor, Pelosi urged Rep. Scott Murphy (N.Y.) to vote yes. Murphy declined to reveal many details of that conversation to The Hill, but soon after his meeting with the Speaker, he announced he would support healthcare reform.

President Barack Obama has had a lot of success in persuading on-the-fence Democrats to commit their votes. Over the last week, he has talked to Reps. Kosmas, Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who will all vote yes.

Since Monday, Obama has had 64 meetings or phone calls with members of Congress on health reform, according to the White House.

Friday was a very good day for House Democratic leaders, with some attributing their success to the Congressional Budget Office estimate that was released on Thursday.

But there were some setbacks on Friday.

Pelosi met in the evening with a visibly angry Pro-Choice Caucus amid rumors from Democratic aides that the Speaker was working on a last-minute deal with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to give his abortion language a separate vote.

Leadership aides, including those in the Speaker’s office, would not comment, but a senior Democratic aide directly involved in the abortion debate said Pelosi appeared to have agreed to give Stupak a vote on an “enrollment resolution” offered by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), a key Stupak ally.

“This concurrent resolution which Congressman Stupak and several others have filed, from the position of the people who signed my letter back in November, is a non-starter,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a Pro-Choice Caucus co-chairwoman. “We compromised to the concept 'no federal funding for abortion,' which is current law -- we don't like that. And so if Mr. Stupak and a few members, along with the Republicans, decide to use this to take healthcare down, then that loss on healthcare coverage is going to be on their hands.”

DeGette said a move allowing the enrollment resolution to go forward would put “somewhere between 40 and 55” pro-abortion rights votes at stake. (Read the whole story by Jared Allen, Jeffrey Young and Molly K. Hooper here.)



Also Friday, Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), another Clyburn target, announced he will vote no. And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is threatening to oppose the legislation unless Medicare reimbursement provisions are changed. While some political observers believe DeFazio will ultimately support the bill, DeFazio has a maverick streak. He voted against the stimulus last year, which Obama later told the Oregon lawmaker that he had taken note of.

Republicans are scoffing at claims that Democrats have captured momentum.

In a March 19 memo, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) stated that the five Democrats -- Reps. Boccieri, Boyd, Bart Gordon (Tenn.), Kucinich and Betsy Markey (Colo.) -- who voted no in November yet plan to vote yes now were not a surprise.

Cantor believes there are 32 Democratic no votes plus the so-called Stupak 12 who want changes to the bill's abortion language.

"So, if we add 12 to 32, we get 44 -- which leaves Speaker Pelosi seven votes short," Cantor wrote.

Soon after Cantor issued his memo, Kosmas -- one of the 32 who Cantor counted as a no -- said she was a yes.

While it remains unclear how many votes Democrats need, Pelosi has made progress this week and is closing in on 216 votes.

According to The Hill's whip list, there are 36 Democrats who will vote no, leaning no or likely no and another three dozen are undecided or unclear. Pelosi does not have a lot of breathing room.

As Cantor says in his memo, 38 is the magic number for the GOP: "38 Democrats are needed to defeat a government take-over of health care."

The big question over the next day will be: Can Pelosi get the votes without striking a deal with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.)?

Stupak claims he has a dozen votes who backed the bill last November who will vote no this time unless there are changes made to the abortion provisions.

On Saturday, Stupak is planning to hold an 11 a.m. press conference on Capitol Hill with other lawmakers who oppose abortion rights. In an interview earlier this week with The Hill, he said Democratic leaders probably had a little more than 200 votes, adding he wouldn't be surprised if he got a call this weekend from Democratic leaders -- as he did last fall.

Stupak voted for the House healthcare bill in November after Pelosi and other Democratic leaders allowed a vote on his abortion amendment, which easily passed.

The Hill's whip list can be accessed here

This article was updated at 9:54 p.m.