Democrats Don't Have the Votes to Pass Healthcare Reform

Expect more waiting, and arm twisting, as vulnerable reps take the hint from voters.

By + More

By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

We've been talking about the White House's healthcare proposal for how long now? Well, pretty much all year.

Democratic leaders promised a vote before the August recess. That deadline not only wasn't reached, it led to Democrats being savaged at local town halls that were covered live on national television. Then we were told a vote would occur in September. No dice. October? Ditto.

Now the World Series has passed (Way to go, Yankees!) and we're told a vote will be held on Saturday, a rare occurrence of Congress working on a weekend.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit with congressional Democrats tomorrow to urge support of the $1.2 trillion measure. That signals one thing: They don't have the votes.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi essentially confirmed as much yesterday. When asked by a reporter if Democrats had the 218 votes necessary to pass the bill, Pelosi replied, "We will." Another way of answering that question: "We don't."

And with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor declaring the bill would have no Republican votes, that means Democratic arm-twisting will be that much more severe. There's a problem, though. Delay after delay have not only pushed a vote after Labor Day and Halloween; they've also made sure a vote (if there is to be one) is after Tuesday's elections that sent a shiver up and down the spine of conservative, moderate, and, most important, vulnerable Democrats not eager to defy their constituents.

There are 85 congressional Democrats who represent districts that gave majorities to either George W. Bush or John McCain. After Tuesday's results, these members are less likely to support a healthcare overhaul with a public option, robust or not.

In Virginia alone, Bob McDonnell carried four congressional districts held by Democrats (Glenn Nye, Tom Perriello, Rick Boucher, and Gerald Connolly) with anywhere from 56-68 percentage points. Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer may get some of these votes, but they can't depend on them.

In fact, Hoyer has already begun to walk back expectations of the vote happening Saturday as promised. He's now saying he "expects" the vote to be held Saturday, but has said it could be held anywhere from Sunday to Tuesday, if necessary.

That means it probably will be necessary. House Democratic leaders will not bring a vote to the floor if they do not have the votes. In the meantime, keep an eye on congressional Democrats—and twisted arms.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on healthcare.
  • Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our digital magazine.
  • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter.