Democrats frustrated with ‘no’ health votes

Democratic strategists are growing frustrated with some members from safe districts who are threatening to vote against the healthcare bill.

“Some of the ‘no’s are, frankly, kind of frustrating,” a senior Democratic strategist said.

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All House Republicans are expected to vote no on the bill, which means Democrats need 216 votes to get legislation passed. Therefore, 37 Democrats can vote against the bill.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is running for reelection in a safe seat, announced Wednesday he would vote for the legislation, which would theoretically allow an endangered incumbent to vote no on the bill. 

Traditionally it’s members in tough reelection campaigns who would get a pass from the party leadership, said Martin Frost, a former chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

“It’s very hard to try and make a member in a very tough district walk the plank on any controversial issue,” Frost said. “Hopefully, if you have a large majority, you’ve got enough other members so that members in very, very competitive districts don’t have to cast a tough vote.”

The Democratic strategist noted that Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezDemocrats rally behind incumbents as Lipinski takes liberal fire Dem leader says party can include abortion opponents DHS to make migrants wait in Mexico while asylum claims processed MORE (D-Ill.), who won reelection in 2008 by 70 points, has said he’ll vote no on the bill. 

“Members have their own reasons to vote; it’s not a lockstep,” the strategist said. “You gotta get to 216 and members are certainly weighing a lot.”

Gutierrez has expressed reservations about some of the provisions regarding legal and illegal immigrants that are contained in the bill.

The Republican House leadership on Tuesday unveiled an ad titled “Washington Madness” that will attack vulnerable Democratic members for supporting the healthcare bill.

“The intent of this was to warn Democrats that if indeed this bill does come to a vote, if they vote yes, these are the kind of ads that they can expect to see hitting them not only in the coming weeks but certainly in the run-up to the election in November,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

“The Democrats who have already expressed their willingness to vote no on this bill are proof that no Democrat district is safe this election year,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is trying to give its members some cover.

“Our members, they’re going to vote how they’re going to vote, but they do need support from outside,” the strategist said. 

With that in mind, the DCCC is going on offense against Republican members who are voting against the bill. A release going to 30 GOP-held districts states: “Families and small businesses in [the state] can’t afford another vote by [the Republican congressman] to put big health insurance companies first.”

President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter Krystal Ball: Patrick's 2020 bid is particularly 'troublesome' for Warren Deval Patrick: Biden 'misses the moment' in 2020 campaign MORE has been more active defending the Democrats’ healthcare bill. He traveled to Ohio on Monday and was in Philadelphia and St. Louis last week. 

“Since Obama has been on offense on this and taken to the road, we’ve seen a difference in the polling,” the strategist said. “It’s no longer taking a nosedive. If nothing else, we’re turning the corner.”

But a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Americans evenly divided on healthcare: Forty-six percent say it would be better to pass Obama’s plan versus 45 percent who would prefer not to pass it.

And more than half of respondents in the poll said they would vote to defeat every single member of Congress, including their own representative. That’s an unusual statistic, because most voters give their lawmaker high marks when compared to the overall congressional approval rating.

Obama has also been pressuring members directly. Democratic Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.) and Scott Murphy (N.Y.) were called to the Oval Office for a sit-down with the president this week, The Associated Press reported. Some analysts have pointed out that Murphy isn’t facing a serious opponent and should be a yes vote.

Other safer members listed on The Hill’s whip count as a likely no include Rep. John BarrowJohn Jenkins BarrowRepublican wins Georgia secretary of state runoff to replace Kemp The most important runoff election is one you probably never heard of Our democracy can’t afford to cut legal aid services from the budget MORE (D-Ga.), who won by 32 points last cycle in a district Obama carried. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) won by 46 points in 2008. Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) won reelection by 30 points, but sits in a district Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDonald Trump's 2020 election economic gamble 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (R-Ariz.) captured easily in 2008. Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) is in a similar position. He won by 12 points in 2008 in a district McCain carried by nine.

Some members are using their public deliberations to create the impression of independence from the party leadership, but will ultimately vote for the bill. But others may be laying the groundwork for their successors. Retiring Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) was a strong backer of the Stupak language in the Senate bill and is considered a likely “no” vote.

“There are several retirees from the South, and those are very conservative districts, by and large, and they may just be reflecting the district or they may be trying to help whoever’s going to run to replace them,” Frost said.

Some Democrats have also taken to forcefully defending the bill. For instance, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), who faces a tough reelection fight, has spoken out on the House floor in favor of the bill.

“You’re going to get attacked no matter what,” the Democratic strategist said. “Even if you vote no, let’s say, twice, you’ll still get attacked for: ‘You voted for the Speaker; you’re part of the Democratic Congress that passed healthcare reform.’ I think our members also get that.”

Other observers warned of dire consequences if the Democrats look unable to pass legislation with a robust majority.

“If they fail on healthcare, they’ll lose the House,” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala. “Not only will Democrats be depressed, Independents will conclude, quite sensibly, that we can’t run the joint. That’s what happened in ’94.”

He continued: “I’m not saying if they pass healthcare they’ll gain seats, but it’s the most important thing they can do to mitigate losses.” Some of the benefits from the bill, such as the closing of the so-called doughnut hole in the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, kick in immediately, he said. “There’s a list of a half-dozen or more things that everybody can understand that apply Day One.”