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Why I'm not counting votes

I'm getting a lot of e-mails about this or that congressperson's latest hedge, or this or that effort to count the votes. So let me take a second to explain why I'm not posting those articles: I don't trust them.

To a degree that's really under-appreciated, legislators communicate with each other through the press. That's particularly true for the specialized Washington press: The Roll Calls and Congressional Quarterlys and Hills of the world. We read those stories as news articles, but the politicians who are quoted in them are often directing their words at their leadership rather than the publication's lay audience. And that means those comments generally have a couple different meanings. The most common double meaning is that a quote that seems like a prediction ("I am not inclined to vote for this bill") is actually the opening of a negotiation ("I want something changed in this bill, and I want it badly enough that I'm willing to play up my opposition in the press.")

Since I can't see into the souls of legislators, I don't waste time trying to parse this stuff. The final weeks before a close vote feature a lot of congresspeople making statements of unbending opposition and then cutting deals which turn them into qualified supporters of the legislation. This appears to be happening with Bart Stupak, for instance, even though he's spent the past few weeks grabbing headlines with his vocal opposition to the bill. So my stance on all this is that we'll know soon enough, but until there's solid evidence, I'm not going to spend time chasing statements that may or may not mean what they appear to mean.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 9, 2010; 12:14 PM ET
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"Since I can't see into the souls of legislators..."

Ezra - You can't see what doesn't exist.

Posted by: nisleib | March 9, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Ezra here. He is far better off staying away from this 'vote count' business given the political dynamics which is waged through these Press accounts.

What is more important is the task of pointing 'mis-information' from likes of David Brooks. The rate at which this garbage is coming from Conservative outlets, it is difficult to imagine how this crap is going to get answered in a ration manner.

I wonder what happened to Obama and DNC Media War Rooms? When we need them most why President's men & women are not rebuking systematically, one after the other, all these false volleys coming from Conservatives? Clearly President is not conducting an effective Media battle here.

Posted by: umesh409 | March 9, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Amen to that. Too many journalists and bloggers take those sorts of statements at face value.

I guess if the media called those statements for what they really are, then politicians would be forced to negotiate behind closed doors. Wait a minute...

Posted by: itstrue | March 9, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

what itstrue said. Let Pelosi count the votes. We will know soon enough who is for or against the plan. The only possible advantage of stating who is for and against a bill is to mobilize constituents in congresscritter's districts to let them know what the district wants. Of course, people should do this anyway, but they don't unless they see their congresscritter going against what they want.

Posted by: srw3 | March 9, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate Ezra keeping his blog out of the muck of the up to the minute whip count commentary, though I'd offer a bit of a primer for anyone who is interested in that stuff: stories about the vote count in the House that dont have the word Stupak in them probably are just noise.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | March 9, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"I don't waste time trying to parse this stuff. The final weeks before a close vote feature a lot of congresspeople making statements of unbending opposition and then cutting deals which turn them into qualified supporters of the legislation"

You live in Washington right? Any chance you're planning to cover the details of these "cut deals" like they're apparently now dangling in front of Stupak?

Is this free gifts and travel -- young escourts of either gender; you name it you got it? (That's inspired by the Massa-Emmanual covage; goodness knows what transpires in "dealmaking").

Or is it details like what came out later on that Nebraska congressman?

If there's any chance you get some downtime from shilling on tv and the like for the Dems, maybe you could get us some details about those dealmaking details, they must be verrrryyy good to override the will of the American people who sent them on our behalfs.

(Which lobbyists are the biggest players here anyway? The insurance and prescription drug ones? The states with the poorest and sickest populations having troubles providing a decent state healthcare plan for its most needy? You're missing the true story by sitting this one out I think, my friend. Go -- get your shoe leather dirty. Bring back some juicy details for WaPo; it's a shame when they get scooped by the National Inquirer on the dirty stuff like that...)

Posted by: Mary42 | March 9, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Hey Mary42 - if you are so fond of the back room deals, looks like you do not know where to look for. Why Ezra's blog where folks may be dreamy thinking Policy issues?

Why don't you listen to Rush? He will give you details of those back room deals. Go to RNC, they have details. DrudgeReport is another place. Fox News should be another place.

Go make your life enriched by consuming all that what these outlets provide.

Just do not waste other people's time by demanding utterly useless non-sense. May be you are like those stupid supporters of Palin and Tea Party who think 'progress means backing nihilism and journalism means salon style gossip'.

Posted by: umesh409 | March 9, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I happen to agree that counting votes at this particular stage is a fruitless effort. Nobody -- other than perhaps Pelosi -- knows when a vote will take place, making it possible for all sorts of negotiation (originally called "intriguing") to take place; further, nobody at all knows what the 11-page yet-to-become-legislative-language "sidecar" proposal will look like.

The most vocal (but not the most solid) opposition to the Senate health care bill now pending before the House is from House progressives, who don't like the fact that the public option is dead; however, such opposition is hollow in that an amendment to foist it back into the bill would trigger an impassible 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Posted by: rmgregory | March 9, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

" if you are so fond of the back room deals, looks like you do not know where to look for. Why Ezra's blog where folks may be dreamy thinking Policy issues?"

Hello? I'm NOT fond of the backroom deals, but they seem to be what Ezra's counting on to get the job done.

Just thought those details might be more important to readers than all this fluffy posturing for its own sake.

Cmon. If the Dems are gonna get dirty to get this deal done, cover the dirt. So we can uncover the truth. Because we all know -- the truth is, there's no way this thing either lowers the deficit or saves anybody except the poorest of the poor in terms of premiums.

The CBO based their predictions on "cooked" number scenarios. And it's gonna take some backroom Dem dealing to get enough of them to swallow it down.

Let's not pretend this is all about helping poor people, ok? That's sickening, more than admitting it's a way to ride an individual career, but not very helpful to the nation struggling mightily already with a lousy, jobless economy.

Posted by: Mary42 | March 9, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Surely you're not denying that juicy backroom deals will be cut here, in order to convince enough number-counting Dems to hop on board?

Hmm.... maybe a nice appearance on Colbert. You never know how you can get someone to overlook numbers and principles by stroking their ego, afterall. ;-)

Posted by: Mary42 | March 9, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone ever told you, Ezra, that you're a very, very astute young man? Well, just don't let it go to your head. ;-)

Posted by: CalD | March 9, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Ezra, you rock.

Posted by: LiberalForReal | March 9, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

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