Does the Democratic leadership know where health reform stands?
Over the past week, top Democrats have been serving health-care reform obsessives a steady stream of quotes on whether they have the votes to pass their bill. Getting this sort of messaging is important. Sound too pessimistic, and those who would otherwise support the bill will abandon what appears to be a failing effort. Sound too optimistic, and fence-sitting lawmakers will wonder why they need to take the political risk to vote for something that the leadership can probably pass without them. But Democratic leaders don’t seem to know quite what to say.
On Sunday, Majority Whip James Clyburn said what most independent whip counts have concluded -- that the Democrats just don’t have the votes yet. Then, Monday night, Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson declared that “the votes are there” to pass the health reform bill. Perhaps something changed? Maybe not: Tuesday afternoon House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sided with Clyburn’s assessment. But here’s the latest from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who tries to split the difference but ends up sounding perhaps a little too reassuring: “When we bring the bill to the floor, we will have the votes.” That echoes White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’s Sunday-morning assessment: “I think whoever sits here this time next week, you all will be talking about health-care reform not as a presidential proposal, but as something that will soon be the law of the land.”
These confusing glimpses into the legislative backroom indicate one of two things. Either the Democratic leadership knows more than we do, wants to keep it that way and is handling its messaging poorly. Or the leadership doesn’t know exactly where it stands and is handling its messaging poorly.
The smart money is on the latter. Folks around town are stating as though it were gospel that Pelosi won’t bring the bill to a vote unless she knows she has the votes. But she did just the opposite the first time she tried -- and failed -- to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program under the gun in Sept., 2008. I’m not so sure she will have firm numbers by the time the House convenes to vote. Which should make for some exciting C-Span watching.
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