64 days left in 2009

Even though it’s less than a week before Halloween and neither the House nor the Senate has passed healthcare reform bills, Democrats have momentum on the issue.


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Before the August recess, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she wasn’t afraid of August, noting, “It’s a month.”

But Republicans did well in August as spirited town hall meetings had many Democrats questioning their leaders on healthcare reform.

The fall has been kinder to Democrats, with more political experts, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), saying an overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system is a matter of when, not if.

There is still a long way to go before a bill is signed into law, and keeping Democrats unified will be an enormous and exasperating test for Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

There are 64 days left in 2009. That is not much time to get a bill done, especially with centrist Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) urging Reid not to move too fast.

White House officials have repeatedly placed deadlines on healthcare reform. Initially, President Barack Obama said he wanted the House and the Senate to pass respective bills by the August recess. It didn’t happen.

Vice President Joe Biden subsequently said healthcare reform should be done by Thanksgiving. That won’t happen.

And earlier this year, Obama said, “If we don’t get it done this year, we’re not going to get it done.”

Even though the Obama administration has not met its deadlines, it has done a good job pushing the bills forward. The greatest challenges, however, will come in the weeks ahead.

Other news that will drive this week will include Obama’s yet-to-be-announced plan on Afghanistan. Republicans on Capitol Hill are growing impatient with the president and want him to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan as soon as possible.

The news from Afghanistan and Iraq over the past couple days has been grim. Fourteen Americans were killed in two Afghan helicopter crashes on Monday, and there were at least 155 deaths in Iraq from twin suicide bombings in Baghdad.

With unemployment on the rise, Congress this week is expected to soon pass an extension of unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is closely monitoring legislation that would freeze credit-card rates and a bill aimed at significantly expanding a housing tax credit that was included in the stimulus package. 

Player of the week: Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.)

There are many House Democrats in their first and second terms who have significant concerns with the direction of healthcare reform.

And while these members have strong convictions, they do not have the experience of Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

Stupak, who is serving his ninth term, knows how to pass, and kill, pending legislation.

The Energy and Commerce Committee voted for the climate change bill, but he is rallying some Democrats to vote against the healthcare reform measure unless changes are made.

Stupak is one of five panel Democrats to vote no on healthcare reform this summer.

During his first campaign for Congress in 1992, Stupak vowed that he would not accept the health insurance that is provided to lawmakers until all Americans had access to high quality, affordable healthcare.

On his website, Stupak notes, “I have kept that promise.”

Stupak has an array of concerns about the bill, most notably its provisions on abortion.

The abortion-rights opponent has said that unless House leaders allow a vote on an amendment to prohibit federal funding for abortions, he and other Democrats will vote no. Twenty-five Democrats, including Stupak, signed a letter to leadership requesting the vote.

House leaders have touted compromise language crafted by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), but Stupak has rejected that language.

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Members feel strongly about this issue, as they should given that both sides claim fundamental right is on their side. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who supports abortion rights, is unwilling to accept the Stupak amendment.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) took the unusual step of appearing at a GOP press conference to discuss the abortion issue last week.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) knows that she will have to strike a deal with Stupak in order to get to 218 votes on healthcare reform. Stupak has made it clear, however, that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he will not go quietly.