What's going on in the House?
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on health-care reform Saturday. But the days before a big vote are rarely calm ones, and this week has been no exception. Democrats don't expect a single Republican to cross over to vote for health-care reform. That is to say, the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, which got eight Republican votes for what amounted to a tax on dirty energy paired with a bazillion (approximately) regulations on energy producers, was more bipartisan than an incrementalist health-care reform bill.
That's left Pelosi's team mired in negotiations with three different types of Democrats who are proving restive at the eleventh hour.
First are the controversialists. This group is concerned about some of the traditionally electric issues: abortion, immigration, that sort of thing. The arguments are largely over language -- in some cases, very small differences in language, and in other cases, very large differences in language -- and most imagine that they'll eventually be finessed.
The abortion argument is centered on a pretty small, and slightly absurd, dispute: how best to cordon off federal funds. Under a compromise suggested by Rep. Brad Ellsworth, for instance, the public plan would hire a private contractor to pay abortion providers. The end result here is likely to be a complicated system in which insurers document that abortions were paid for through the funds that the individual contributed, as opposed to the subsidies. It's all a bit absurd, but it's workable.
Immigration may prove harder. The White House had a meeting with members of the Hispanic Caucus that does not look to have gone very well, with members of the caucus taking a hard line on the inclusion of illegal immigrants in the final bill.
The second group is made up of centrist skeptics. This group is rather better understood, with the final outcomes a bit more predictable. Some are from vulnerable districts and others are simply centrists, but these are the folks who think the surtax on millionaires is deeply offensive to American values, or that the public option goes too far, or that the whole thing is simply too ambitious. These are where you get most of the "hard Nos," the folks who can't be brought on with such legislative tweaks.
The final group is worried about the process. Some are concerned that the Senate isn't going to vote for three months and the House bill will simply hang out and get hammered by the right, leading to the Senate passing a substantially different, and politically safer, bill. If that's going to be the outcome, these Democrats don't want to have to defend a vote on a liberal bill that didn't even make it into law. This group isn't sure they want to vote first, and is all the more concerned given that they don't have assurances from Reid on either his timing or the language of the Senate bill.
There's overlap between these groups, of course. But even amid the last-minute chaos, fairly little is actually in play here. Twists in the language on abortion and immigration. Whether Rep. Anothony Weiner offers a single-payer amendment (he decided against it to spare some of these moderates with liberal bases more pressure and controversy than they're already facing). That sort of thing. The hope remains that the "rule" gets voted on tomorrow, and the bill gets voted on directly afterwards. Delay past this weekend isn't a death knell, but it's not a good sign, and the leadership knows that. The perception of a vulnerable process makes moderates more, rather than less, scared, which makes their demands more, rather than less, insistent.
Photo credit: By Harry Hamburg/Associated Press
November 6, 2009; 2:55 PM ET
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