Counting the votes for health-care reform
In case you missed it, the big news this weekend was that the House passed health-care reform. But the mild surprise was that it barely passed health-care reform. In the final tally, 220 congresspeople voted for the bill -- two more than needed to achieve passage. But two votes is not a very large margin, and 39 Democratic defections are worth taking seriously.
The hard question to answer, however, is whether there were 39 Democratic defections or 39 Democrats who voted against the bill. Because within that 39 are some Democrats who were solidly against the legislation, but also some vulnerable or conservative Democrats who would have voted for the bill if Pelosi had needed their vote.
You saw the difference between the two groups a few minutes before the final vote. At almost 11 p.m., Eric Cantor (R-Va.) raised a "motion to recommit with instructions." A longer explanation of that parliamentary maneuver is here, but for the moment, think of it as the House's version of a filibuster. If it succeeded, health care would've been thrown back to the committee. It failed. And not by a slim 220 votes. A solid 244 Democrats joined three Republicans (including, interestingly, Ron Paul) to defeat the GOP's effort to stall the bill. Only 13 Democrats defected, suggesting that fairly few of the Democratic "no" votes were out to doom the legislation.
One of the other explanations for the number of Democratic defectors is that a certain percentage of Democrats would like to vote for health-care reform but didn't want to vote for this bill. Most believe that the Senate will pass a more conservative bill with a smaller public option, tighter language on immigrants, no surtax on income, and no employer mandate, among other modifications to the more controversial elements of the House's bill. They also believe that the final bill will look more like the Senate bill than the House bill. If that proves true, they'd prefer to vote against the initial House bill so they're not attacked for supporting policies that don't survive into the final legislation. After all, if you don't think an employer mandate will be in the final bill, why anger local businesses by casting a symbolic vote for one?
All that said, the fact that there might have been more votes for health-care reform if Pelosi had needed them doesn't obviate the fact that more congresspeople didn't vote for health-care reform. However you slice it, 39 Democrats worried that voting for this bill was a political liability, and decided that opposing it was, for the moment, the safer play.
Correction: I'd been a bit confused on the "motion to recommit." Turns out there are two variants: one that effectively kills the bill and is analogous to a filibuster, and one that is used as a rapid amendment process. The version the GOP employed was more of the rapid amendment type, so the bill would've been amended with the Cantor's medical malpractice provision, and then sent back for a vote.
Photo credit: Yuri Gripas/Reuters.
November 9, 2009; 10:35 AM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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