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The Democrats to watch

The talk right now is about what "Democrats" will do on health-care reform. But the truth of the matter is that we know how 95 percent of Democrats will vote. We know what the congressional leadership and the White House want. But the fate of this project lies with a relatively small number of ambivalent Democrats in the House of Representatives. No one knows exactly who those votes are (though they're mainly among these folks, and then the Stupak 14) , nor what they want. Say what you will about Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln, but they made their demands loudly and clearly.

A lot of the confusion right now, however, comes because the concerns of House members are not as well understood. The media is focusing on the theater between Barack Obama and the Republican leadership, but the outcome will be decided between Democrats, not Democrats and Republicans. So far as the White House is concerned, they're the real audience for Thursday's summit, and no one knows exactly what they're hoping to see.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 22, 2010; 3:33 PM ET
 
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Comments

"Say what you will about Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln, but they made their demands loudly and clearly"

They may be loud, but I don't think any of them have been particularly clear. Ben Nelson was hemming and hawing until he was bought off in a deal he had to know had to look bad for the bill--as I've said before, it's one thing to be bought off with pork, another to be bought off with *exemption* from the wonderful bill your vote is being purchased for--and I guess Lincoln has been pretty consistent. But Leiberman seems to me to have been very much in the "for it before he was against it" camp. That is, loud, but not consistent, and changing his demands as it seemed he was likely to get what he was asking for.

From a guy who was a reliable liberal vote on most issues outside of Isreal and National Security, dude was clearly dishing some political payback.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 22, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

If I know anything about House politicians, there're all looking for a little of that "Cornhusker slop." Oink! Oink!

Posted by: golewso | February 22, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

This is right on target.

I'd suggest that what they want is pretty simple: they want their job beyond November. That matters more than health care reform. More than whether Democrats avoid massive losses besides themselves.

While its easy (and probably correct) to say that passing the bill is best for Democrats, that may not be true for a specific district in Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, etc. It similarly easy to broadly proclaim that those from conservative districts are most likely to lose their elections if there is a big wave, but the reality is that that may not be true for their specific district.

What they really wanted was the ability to vote "no" to a bill that passes, to maximize their specific chances of earning re-election. That option appears unlikely to be on the table due to the Stupak 14. There hasn't been enough of a micro-target case on why health care reform is in their interests. If I was Axelrod et al, I'd be spending the money on polls and market research in those specific districts to make the case.

Posted by: wisewon | February 22, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Is it really correct to say that "no one" knows what they want? I'm pretty sure that Steny Hoyer knows a lot on the subject, or else he is not doing his job. The rest of us would probably rest a bit easier if we knew more, but the fundamental dynamic applies that it would be an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats if HCR failed on the final vote in the House. That is a pretty strong motivator for the no-voter; they would definitely not want to be blamed for that failure.

One interesting thing I noted when the House voted on HCR last time was that the Democratic no-votes fairly quickly rose to 30 or 32 and then stayed there until the bill had reached 218 yes-votes, after which the final six or seven "no" voting Democrats followed in short order. I may be wrong, but this may indicate that there are several representatives among this group that were prepared to vote for the bill even in its first incarnation, had that proven necessary.

Posted by: hansr | February 22, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

"So far as the White House is concerned, they're the real audience for Thursday's summit, and no one knows exactly what they're hoping to see."

They probably want to see health care reform in the rear view mirror.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 22, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

My gut tells me that there are enough lily-livered Dems who are willing to kill the Senate bill and then take their chances with their constituents in November.

By the way, read Digby's link to George Lakoff. It really nails why Obama, that kumbaya son of multicultural Hawaii, never understood the GOP's master strategy back to power.

Posted by: scarlota | February 22, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I'm skeptical that House leadership has any idea what the 40 representatives that voted for Stupak & HCR or the 39 reps that voted against HCR want.
Such is the problem when 22% of the membership are Blue Dogs (33% if you include the New Democrat Coalition), but they make up none of the leadership and head only of the committees (probably a few more if you consider subcommittees).
Pelosi, Hoyer and Van Hollen have shown themselves out of touch with the moderates. Even somewhat surprised and unsure how to respond when a moderate and conservative objected. Can we really be sure they understand their concerns?

Posted by: cprferry | February 22, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

only 2 of the committees*

Posted by: cprferry | February 22, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

The strategy to get health care passed is to make it a political impossibility for Democrats to let the Senate bill die. Sitting on the incomplete bills is already a millstone around their neck, and the longer they fail to act the more Americans will turn it into a political nightmare for them. The most important thing to remember is that the debate on health care doesn't end with this week's event. The debate ends only when reform has been passed and becomes law.

Those of us who are fighting for health care reform understand that we will have to make noise about reform at a volume inversely proportional to what Democrats in Congress are doing about it, right up until November. The more they try to let the issue slip from their agenda, the louder we'll be excoriating them and telling them that we'll oppose them in the elections. This strategy has already been taking shape among Democratic constituencies and has been bearing some fruit. The more congressional Democrats try to put the health care debate behind them without passing reform, the noisier we'll be about it, until the political price of their neglect simply becomes too high for them. All we need to do is make sure that they will look more and more pathetic until they either pass the bill or get kicked out of congress in November. The determination and persistence is there among the base to see this through. It's up to the Democrats in Congress to decide whether they want to go into the elections with a huge legislative accomplishment, or as a political cripple that cannot -- in spite of huge majorities -- pass legislation that Americans have been working for for more than half a century.

Posted by: opinionpieces | February 22, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

LOL. One of those "folks" is a Republican now. So I guess that's one we *do* know, huh?

Your claim of knowing how 95% will vote is misleading, because what we really don't know is just how many "yes" votes have switched to "nay". Dems worked their butts off to get the yes votes last time. Who's left -- Kucinich?

218 is unachievable.

Posted by: cpurick | February 22, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

House doesn't have hte votes. Does Reid even have the votes in the Senate? I think it will come down to the wire - maybe 50-50.....

Posted by: MBP2 | February 22, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

"So far as the White House is concerned, they're the real audience for Thursday's summit"

If you know the above to be true, why did your Newsweek article ask the prez to "Stay Out Of It"?

Posted by: philipc2000 | February 22, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

cpurick:

"218 is unachievable."

You have advised the readers of this blog, again and again (and again), that the HCR bill will never pass the House. It is dead, stick the proverbial fork in it, fuhgeddaboudit, Stupak, Blue Dogs, Jack Murtha, etc.

Now let us assume that you are indeed the all-knowing seer of future House votes, and that your prediction of future voting is blessed with iron-clad infallibility.

Life is short and so we all must live our lives to the fullest. Since this bill is dead as a door nail, why in the world do you invest your precious time returning here to Ezra Klein's blog, day after day, to talk about this bloodless corpse of hopeless legislation?

Knowing that this bill is already flat-lined, would not your time be better spent in other more productive pursuits, rather than spending weeks on end discussing something that is obviously so long-expired on the operating table?

I myself feel very certain that the world is round. As a result, I can't imagine spending so much of my time debating that issue with people that believe the world is (or might be) flat, as you spend here discussing HCR.

Just curious what the draw is for you.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 23, 2010 3:41 AM | Report abuse

Patrick, people come here to get informed. I just see to it that they're not disappointed.

On the other hand, since you're just repeating the local talking points, what's your purpose?

Posted by: cpurick | February 23, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

cpurick,

Personally, I enjoy Economic and Domestic Policy, and the Maudlin Over-Heated Rhetoric of the Trolls, and Lots of It

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 23, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

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