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By Jay Cost

HorseRaceBlog Home Page --> March 2010

The Republican Message Writes Itself

The talk among Republicans is that their November message should focus on repealing the new health care bill - or some version of repeal and replace. Meanwhile, other analysts have suggested that Republicans risk over-reaching and appearing too aggressive.

I think this debate is misframed. The Republican message is going to be put together by campaign strategists looking to maximize the number of votes won by their candidates. While there is something to be said for emphasizing repeal, I expect the Republican argument to focus on more visceral, immediate points. Here are the five big arguments we should expect the GOP to emphasize.


1. The Economy. This is the number one issue in every poll. If the labor market continues to be weak, expect Republican candidates to use that to great effect. They'll communicate the information contained in this chart :


Obviously, they won't use this chart - but it's not hard to envision how some GOP ad man will translate the information in this chart into an effective advertisement.

Remember, it's not just that the unemployment rate is elevated. It's that the Obama Administration - and by extension congressional Democrats - over-promised on what the stimulus package would do for it.

2. Medicare. Call it Bob Dole's revenge. The 104th Congress tried to trim the sails of Medicare to preserve its long-run sustainability, and they were hammered by the Democrats for their efforts. This time, Republicans will return the favor - arguing against the hundreds of billions of cuts in Medicare that ObamaCare imposes to fund a new entitlement. Republican candidates will be sure to mention points like this, from CBO:

Under the legislation, CBO expects that Medicare spending would increase significantly more slowly during the next two decades than it has increased during the past decades (per beneficiary, after adjusting for inflation). It is unclear whether such a reduction in the growth rate of spending could be achieved, and if so, whether it would be accomplished through greater efficiencies in the delivery of health care or through reductions in access to care or the quality of care.

What effect will this have? Consider that in the 2008 presidential election in Virginia, senior citizens made up 11% of the electorate and went for John McCain, 53-46. In the 2009 gubernatorial election, they made up 18% of the electorate and gave Bob McDonnell 60% of the vote.

Gallup finds that seniors right now give Barack Obama just 40% job approval. That's bad news for Democrats.

3. The Deficit. If anybody doubts whether deficits can influence votes, look no further than the case of H. Ross Perot. He made fiscal sustainability a chief plank in his 1992 presidential campaign, and he pulled in a whopping 19% of the vote. That included 30% of the Independent vote.

The deficit is one of those issues that everybody understands. Everybody has to keep some kind of budget, and everybody knows that they can't get away with spending more than twice what they take in. The White House can call this a "new era of responsibility," but it's hard to square the claim with the numbers.

4. Taxes and spending. Combine the billions of new taxes in the health care bill with the $1 trillion from letting the Bush tax cuts expire, the $940 billion price tag of ObamaCare, and the $789 billion stimulus - and you have a simple GOP message: this is the biggest tax and spend government in American history.

Plus, expect Republicans to warn that the unsustainability of the deficit plus Obama's social welfare ambitions can mean only one thing: massive new taxes on the middle class. We could see ads using this clip:

5. Congress. This is one of the most unpopular Congresses in recent history, and Republicans will try to anchor incumbent Democrats to Nancy Pelosi, who is quite unpopular (the latest AP poll had her unfavorables at 51%).

We're going to see a lot of ads like this:

Democratic members already expect this coming. Witness, for instance, the number of members who are defecting on minor procedural matters. For instance, seventeen brave House Democrats voted with the Republicans on the highly controversial resolution yesterday to adjourn the House of Representatives! That includes 10 Democrats who just voted for ObamaCare but who were courageous enough to defy the Speaker's demand to send members home for Easter vacation: Chris Carney, Joe Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth, Jim Himes, Suzanne Kosmas, Harry Mitchell, Scott Murphy, Tom Perriello, Mark Schauer, and Joe Sestak.

Kidding aside, there is no other reason for such a vote than to lower the percentage of agreement with Speaker Pelosi.


These are the tried-and-true issues for Republicans to hit: jobs, Medicare, the deficit, taxes and spending, and Congress. There will be other messages out there, but individually each of these would be very potent. Running on them all in a single election is something else entirely. If the Republicans pick up lots of seats in November, some Republican campaign "guru" will come out of the woodwork to claim credit - but c'mon, the ads write themselves.

The GOP need not and will not focus primarily on the idea of "repeal," which is far too vague. That's not to say that the party shouldn't promise repeal. It's just to say that its rhetorical emphases should - and will - focus on the messages that have been proven over the years to be effective.

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-Jay Cost

ObamaCare is Politically Vulnerable

Liberal commentators are comparing the passage of ObamaCare to other landmark pieces of legislation - like Social Security and Medicare. I agree that in the provision of social welfare, this bill ranks nearly as high. But when you examine how the welfare is provided - it is strikingly inferior. Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson made use of an ingenious social insurance system - promoting the idea that we all pay in today to take out tomorrow. It was consistent with American individualism. It was simple. It was intuitive. It was bipartisan.

Obama's new system has none of those virtues. It's an impenetrable labyrinth of new taxes, benefits, and regulations, passed on the narrowest of possible majorities with more than 10% of the Democratic caucus joining every Republican. Even Wile E. Coyote would be embarrassed by its inefficiencies.

Still, the thought among its proponents at the moment is that the legislation, once enacted, cannot be repealed. It will have the benefit of our system's strong "status quo bias." Accordingly, expect yesterday's critics of the filibuster to become its valiant defenders should push come to shove.

The status quo bias is a very real thing, and it makes the Republican efforts to modify or repeal challenging. The GOP must control the entire government by January, 2013 to enact major changes to the legislation. By then, the thinking goes among proponents, those with a personal stake in preserving the legislation will be in place to protect it, just as seniors have been on guard against raids on Social Security.

Yet it's not that simple. The Democrats crammed a $2 trillion bill into a $1 trillion package by delaying the distribution of most benefits for four years, until 2014. This creates two major political vulnerabilities for ObamaCare.

The first is an imbalance between winners and losers through the next two elections. Harold Lasswell defined politics as who gets what, when, and how. By this metric, ObamaCare is bad politics for the foreseeable future. Like any major piece of legislation, this bill assigns winners and losers. The winners will be those who today are uninsured, but who will (eventually) acquire insurance. But there will not be a major reduction in the uninsured until 2014. So, the actual winners are going to be pretty few in number for some time.

Meanwhile, the losers begin to feel the effects immediately. Between now and the next presidential election, ObamaCare is going to pay out virtually zero dollars in benefits, but it will take billions out of Medicare. This is bad for seniors. They have an incentive to oppose portions of this bill (while supporting others, like the closing of the "Doughnut Hole," which Republicans will never repeal). While the Democrats will claim that this reduction in benefits will have no effect on the quality of their care, CBO is much less certain:

Under the legislation, CBO expects that Medicare spending would increase significantly more slowly during the next two decades than it has increased during the past decades (per beneficiary, after adjusting for inflation). It is unclear whether such a reduction in the growth rate of spending could be achieved, and if so, whether it would be accomplished through greater efficiencies in the delivery of health care or through reductions in access to care or the quality of care. (Emphasis mine)

The italicized sentence is an enormous political problem for the Democratic Party. After decades of developing a reputation for defending the interests of senior citizens, the Democrats have put it in serious jeopardy with this legislation. And they've done so right at the moment when demographic shifts are making the senior population more powerful than ever.

Why create such an imbalance between winners and losers? The Democrats are not fools. Why would they do this?

The answer is pretty simple: to hide the true cost of the bill. They don't want to push a $2 trillion program now because this country is facing the greatest deficit crisis it's seen in decades - and such a price tag does not make for good politics these days.

These budgetary gimmicks enabled them to pass the bill, winning over enough self-described "deficit hawks" in the Blue Dog wing of the party to limp to 219 in the House last night. Yet their smoke and mirrors can only mask, not alter the reality, which is this: at a time when the country is facing an enormous deficit problem, the Democrats have created another significant financial obligation for Uncle Sam. This is the second major political vulnerability of ObamaCare.

It's easy to forget these days, seeing as how we've been on a 15-year break from the politics of deficit reduction, just how brutal it tends to be. If you want to know why the parties have become so polarized in the last 30 years, the deficit is a big part of the answer. When Reagan indexed the tax code and stopped runaway inflation, governmental bean counters couldn't depend on bracket creep to solve future imbalances between taxes and spending - and so the lines between the two parties were drawn starkly and clearly.

Deficit reducers always have to choose between two undesirable alternatives: cut spending or raise taxes. The problem with both tactics is that somebody loses while nobody really wins. The benefits of a reduced deficit are diffused across the population and are but weakly felt. Tax increases or spending cuts are felt directly and intensely. Typically, to balance the budget, somebody has to be made worse off tomorrow than they are today.

But not when it comes to ObamaCare, at least not prior to 2014. The benefits could be altered to ease the deficit burden without making anybody worse off tomorrow than they are today. Of course, the beneficiaries of the subsidies would not be as well off tomorrow as they expect to be, but that's different from being made worse off. That could be an important distinction if the politics of deficit reduction are as fiercely zero-sum as they have been in decades past. If it comes down to a choice between a new tax on the middle class or scaling back the unimplemented provisions of ObamaCare, guess what the policymakers in Washington, D.C. will choose.

We're definitely heading toward some kind of hard choice about the deficit. If we weren't, the Democrats wouldn't have employed all those gimmicks to claim that the bill costs less than $1 trillion. They know people are worried about this issue.

Last week, President Obama said again and again that the time for talk is over. Yet this week he's going on the road to defend his new bill. This is why. ObamaCare is politically vulnerable. It lacks the bipartisan support that created and protected new entitlements in decades past. The public does not have confidence in it. Worst of all, it creates an imbalance between winners and losers for four years, and it amounts to a staggeringly expensive new entitlement at a time when the country has to think hard about how to trim its sails.

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-Jay Cost

Stupak Bloc is Critical To Passage

With the recent announcement that Lincoln Davis and John Tanner - both no votes in November - will remain no votes today, it is pretty clear now that the Stupak bloc is critical for passage. The Hill identifies 39 members who have indicated some form of opposition to the bill, and it includes Kathy Dahlkemper as an undecided vote (she's believed to be a Stupak Democrat) for a total of 40 votes. Meanwhile, the number of undecided non-Stupak Democrats is down to just three (by my count): Jim Cooper, Paul Kanjorski, and Loretta Sanchez.

What this means is very simple. If the Democrats win the Stupak bloc, they get passage. If they lose the Stupak bloc, they don't get passage.

MSNBC reported earlier that the leadership had made a deal with Stupak. Though this has been walked back, most reports I've seen suggest that a deal is just about at hand.

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-Jay Cost

Why Was Pelosi Talking to Stupak?

People must have been surprised last night to learn that Nancy Pelosi was talking to Bart Stupak as early as this morning. The talks are apparently off. But still, it's interesting. And it's a puzzle, considering the apparent momentum the leadership had built by flipping members.

But "momentum" is a concept that relates to physical science. When we're talking about politics, we're using it as a metaphor, and sometimes it can be misleading. In this instance, I think it was. If Pelosi was talking to Stupak, it's because her head counts are awfully close.

Here's why.

Let's use The Hill's whip count to count votes. And remember that a perfect re-vote of November would result in a count of 217-214. But we already know that Joseph Cao, the sole Republican to support the bill in November, is going to vote no. That means that the count would be 216-215.

This sets up the follow guidepost: to pass the bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi must match every yes-to-no flip with a no-to-yes flip. So, for instance, if 9 no votes flip to yes but 10 yes votes flip to no - the bill fails 215-216.

With this in mind, let's look at The Hill's count.

I've organized it into several categories. (1) Yes votes who have indicated they could flip to no (excluding Peter DeFazio, who I think will vote yes). (2) No votes who have indicated they'll flip to yes. (3) The remaining no votes who are still undecided at this late hour. (4) The undecided yes votes who might be allied with Stupak. Remember, Pelsoi needs to pull in - at a minimum - the same number of no-to-yes flips as she suffers yes-to-no flips.

Hill Math.jpg

Right now, there are three more yes-to-no votes than there are no-to-yes votes. This means that:

-If all the remaining undecideds vote the way they did in November, the bill will fail.

-If three of the yes-to-undecided votes flip to the no category, the bill will fail even if Pelosi pulls in all the remaining undecided votes.

-If three of those no-to-undecided votes stay a no, the bill will fail even if Pelosi pulls in all the remaining undecided votes.

I believe that this is why Pelosi was dealing with Stupak. She needs the no-to-yes to at least be even with the yes-to-no, and right now she's at -3 (assuming The Hill's count is accurate).

Yet the negotiations are now off. Why? I see three possible explanations:

(a) After initiating the talks with Stupak, she found other votes. Some members whom The Hill currently has as no votes have told her that they can vote yes if she really needs them. Pelosi accordingly re-did her math and realized she doesn't need the Stupak bloc.

(b) The pro-choice caucus made a credible threat that it would vote no if Pelosi caved to Stupak. She factored that into her calculations and discovered that she would lose net votes if she gave Stupak what he wants. So, she broke off the talks with him. She is going to keep hunting for votes among those undecideds, and try to flip a few of those no votes to yes. In other words, she's betting that if she takes it to the floor, she can pull an inside straight.

(c) The pro-choice caucus made a threat that Pelosi can't determine is credible or not. She's holding Stupak off for a little bit to see if the pro-choicers blink. If they do, she'll go back to the table to deal with him.

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-Jay Cost

Will Nancy Pelosi Find the Votes?

The Hill has been keeping a pretty good whip count of the vote. It suggests Nancy Pelosi has a heck of a job on her hand.

Here's how I see things breaking down.

The Hill has 37 Democrats in the "Firm No, Leaning No, Likely No" category. I agree with 36 of these 37 (Update 12 noon: Or, better put, 36 of 37 seem plausible to me). The only objection I have is Luis Gutierrez, and that's not a criticism of The Hill. He says he's a no, which is why he's there. I think he's going to be a yes when push comes to shove.

Then I go down to their list of Undecideds, and I see plenty who could very well wind up as no votes. Here are the top 11.

-Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania. Voted no last time. Nobody has gotten more face-time than this publicity hound. He's been publicly fretting to everybody with a tape recorder about the burden of casting such an important vote. Yet he never fails to mention that the views of his constituents will be the deciding concern. His district gave Barack Obama 44% of the vote, and the Republicans have landed a top-tier midterm recruit in Mary Beth Buchanan. I'd point out that he voted against the rule in November. This is typically a party-line vote, and it's a sign that the political implications are very much on his mind.

-John Boccieri of Ohio. Voted no last time. Also voted for the Stupak amendment. Its exclusion could make him tough to get. He didn't show up to Obama's rally yesterday in Ohio.

-Allen Boyd of Florida. Voted no last time. He has a primary opponent, but he also comes from a district that gave John McCain 54% of the vote. In late February, he expressed concerns about reconciliation and passing a bill that lacked public support. Importantly, he also voted against the education bill that is going to be included in the reconciliation package. He voted against the package in the Budget Committee yesterday.

-Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania. Voted yes last time. She is generally seen as a Stupak Democrat. I'd be surprised to see Democrats like Stupak and Lipinski vote against the bill, but Dahlkemper vote in favor. She comes from a pro-life district in northwestern Pennsylvania.

-Brad Ellsworth of Indiana. Voted yes last time. He's running for the Senate in Indiana, and has expressed concerns about abortion. With fellow Hoosier Joe Donnelly upset about abortion, Ellsworth has extra pressure on him.

-Baron Hill of Indiana. Voted yes last time. If Donnelly and Ellsworth vote no, Hill might bolt, too. Charlie Cook currently rates his race a toss-up, and he voted for the Stupak amendment last time.

-Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania. Voted yes last time. He's in a tight race in his Scranton-area district - and the education bill might make the difference. He voted against it last time. Sallie Mae has a big presence in Scranton. He also has a strong pro-life record and voted for the Stupak amendment in November.

-Glenn Nye of Virginia. Voted no last time. The Weekly Standard reports on an item that he sent to his constituents with very negative comments about provisions in the bill. Charlie Cook rates his race a toss-up.

-Tom Perriello of Virginia. Voted yes last time. Jim Geraghty at the Campaign Spot reports that he's making negative comments to constituents about the abortion language in the bill. Charlie Cook rates his race a toss-up. (Update, 2:20 PM: Chris Bowers of Open Left reports a statement from Perriello saying that he is not a Stupak Democrat, but that he has "plenty of serious problems with the Senate bill.")

-Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota. Voted yes last time. Politico reported that he made some very negative comments about both the House and Senate bills a few weeks ago. He voted for the Stupak amendment and faces a very tough reelection challenge.

-John Tanner of Tennessee. Voted no last time. He's retiring, but the last I heard about him was a report in the New York Times that he's not inclined to give the Speaker his vote.

Counting votes is more alchemy than arithmetic, and so I don't want to say something like, "The Speaker is so-and-so votes short." (Update, 2:50 PM Nor am I prepared to put a probability estimate on this. I honestly and truly have no idea what is going to happen.) My conclusion is more modest. I look over the list of people who have indicated disinclination to support the bill, and the list of those who are technically on-the-fence - and I see an enormous challenge.

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-Jay Cost

Bart Stupak Has Problems

Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak has problems.

Big problems.

Here's the situation. He and his bloc of pro-life Democrats want Stupak's pro-life language in the final health care bill. The talk of late is that this might be done by inserting the Stupak language into the reconciliation bill that is currently being negotiated. Here's how this scenario would go down: the House votes for the Senate bill, which does not have the Stupak language; then it votes for the reconciliation "fixer," which does have the Stupak language; then the Senate votes for the reconciliation fixer; in the end, the Stupak language becomes law.

That's a mess.

For starters, Stupak has to hold his anti-abortion coalition through the House. He did this in November - convincing the Speaker that he had enough votes to kill the House health care bill unless he got his pro-life language inserted into it. He has to do this again now.

But then he has an even bigger problem: the Senate.

Senate Republicans want us to believe that they'll move to strike any Stupak language from the reconciliation bill. One of the best Captiol Hill reporters in the business, David Drucker, has the details on GOP bluster:

Republicans, hoping to sow doubts among House Democrats about reconciliation's prospects for passing the Senate, revealed Tuesday they intend to raise procedural objections over any abortion language that shows up in a reconciliation package -- even if it toughens prohibitions against federal funding. Specifically, Republican Senators plan to raise a budget point of order, a procedural move objecting to the reconciliation process that requires 60 votes to defeat.

This is what is known as a non-credible threat. Don't believe this for a minute.

The reason is simple: Senate Republicans will not have an opportunity to kill the main health care bill. By the time the reconciliation bill comes to the floor of the Senate - the main bill that they hate will have passed the House and likely will have become the law of the land (assuming that the Democrats don't find some Rube Goldberg legislative device to make the Senate act on reconciliation first). Thus, Senate Republicans will face the following choice: health care reform with the Stupak language or health care reform without the Stupak language.

That's really no choice at all.

We can represent this graphically with a decision tree:

GOP Non-Credible Threat.jpg

The idea here is that the House goes first. If they fail to pass the main bill and the reconciliation "fixer" bill, health care reform dies. If they pass them, then only the reconciliation bill goes to the Senate. Senate Republicans have no opportunities to attack the main bill. Thus, they are faced with a choice: main bill plus Stupak language or main bill minus Stupak language. A large majority prefer the Stupak language, so they do not raise a Point of Order on this.

Remember, we must always assume that members of Congress only care about process insofar as it affects policy. When faced with a choice between retaining the Stupak language or maintaining the integrity of the Byrd rule (ha!), they'll go for Stupak seven days a week and twice on Sunday.

Importantly, the GOP will raise a Point of Order if and only if it expects that the objection will move the final product closer to the party's preferences. So, if you're a House Democrat who wants a certain liberal provision to get into the reconciliation bill, but you're worried that it might not survive the Byrd rule, you do have reasons to worry. The GOP will probably raise a Point of Order against your provision. But Stupak wants to move the package to the right. The Senate Republicans are not his problem.

The Senate Democrats are.

Steny Hoyer has a negotiating advantage in dealing with the Stupak issue in the House. He can bring the liberals together with Stupak and say, "Look, guys - we all want health care reform. If we don't find common ground, we're not going to get anything!" This is probably why Stupak said he is more optimistic - Hoyer has indicated a recognition of the problem and a willingness to talk with Stupak.


Suppose that the House Democrats agree to put Stupak's language into the reconciliation bill. As I said, the Senate GOP will likely go along with it when it gets to the Upper Chamber - but Senate Democrats likely will not. After all, by the time the reconciliation bill has come up for a vote in the Senate, the main bill will already be the law of the land. Thus, the Hoyer pitch of "We have to find common ground or else there's no bill" will be inoperative. Senate Democrats will thus face this choice: they can have health care with Stupak language or health care without Stupak language.

That's really no choice at all.

Senate Democrats are bound to reject the Stupak language, just like they did in December. Specifically, somebody like Barbara Boxer will raise a Point of Order against the Stupak language to get it stricken from the reconciliation bill. The parliamentarian will presumably advise that the objection is valid - and 60 votes will be required to overturn the ruling to strike it. A majority of Senators will probably vote to overturn it - just as a majority voted for Stupak language in December - but it will fall short of the needed 60 vote supermajority. (Side prediction: the liberals who have been huffing and puffing about the supermajority requirements in the Senate will not be terribly upset by this.)

Graphically, the decision tree looks like this:

Dems Empty Promise 2.jpg

This is Stupak's real problem. Lots of Democratic House members have expressed concerns about the trustworthiness of the Senate. Stupak has the most reasons to worry.

I think the only solution for Stupak is somehow to find a way for the Senate to act first on abortion. This is the most important point: when Stupak and his bloc cast their votes in the House, their leverage is completely gone. That's the only power they have in the process. If they are induced to go first, they will lose to the Senate liberals.

Follow me now on Twitter, and be sure to check out my health care whip count, updated as new information comes in.

-Jay Cost

It's Time for Moderate House Democrats to Stand Up to Obama

According to Gallup, Barack Obama entered the presidency with a net approval rating (i.e. percent approve minus percent disapprove) of 56%. This past weekend, he was at just +1%. No newly elected President has fallen so far so fast since polling began. Only Bill Clinton - in his difficult first year in office - came close.

Some pundits have an overly-reductionist take on Obama's fast-declining numbers, arguing that the precipitous drop is entirely due to the stagnant economy. They like to draw a comparison to Ronald Reagan, whose numbers fell quickly as he dealt with a recession early in his term. No doubt some of Obama's decline is related to the recession, but the 44th President - unlike the 40th - was elected when the economy was already contracting. This gives Obama political cover that Reagan did not have. Just 7% of Americans, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, blame Obama for the recession.

If it's more than the economy, what else is it? Health care is a strong contender. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day of last year, Obama's net job approval rating in the RCP average declined by 63%. This was the period when House Democrats were beginning to divide openly over their reform proposals, and when the town hall protests started. As the debate has dragged on, his net approval has inched closer and closer to zero. Today, the country is essentially split in half over his tenure.

That split is not random. It breaks down along the typical cleavages. Obama is strong in the East; weak in the South. Young people like him; seniors do not. Democrats stand with him; Republicans and Independents don't. Blacks approve; whites do not. Single people support him; married people don't.

Yet the Democratic Party controls Congress today because in the last two election cycles it healed these divisions, at least partially. In 2008, House Democrats split the South. They won voters young and old. They won Independents. They held their own with whites. They split married voters. This is why they have a majority in the 110th House of Representatives.

If the current trends in public opinion continue, they will lose that majority because of President Obama's divisiveness. We have seen hints of things to come with GOP victories in Virginia, New Jersey, and most recently Massachusetts - as the difference-making voters for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008 turned to the Grand Old Party.

Either Mr. Obama and his advisors are blind to this, or they don't care, or both. I think it's both; call it willful blindness, a self-serving belief that 2008 was indeed a liberal realignment, and that the numbers will eventually reflect it. Regardless, House Democrats should know that the voters who have made them a majority party in recent cycles strongly oppose this health care bill; they have turned against President Obama; and they will eventually turn against them if they go along with the President. Moderates from the South and Midwest will be the first to go down to defeat as the party shrinks from a majority to a minority.

Yet such crassly selfish political considerations are not at the core of the debate moderate Democrats should be having. The real question is this: what is the Democratic Party all about? As I have argued before, the substance of this bill - with a mandate enforced by the Internal Revenue Service that all citizens buy a product from a private company as part of the terms of public citizenship - is antithetical to the historical spirit of the party.

But it's not just the substance. It's the process. The ever-obliging mainstream media have helpfully reduced the appropriateness of reconciliation to a merely legislative question, thus obscuring the bigger political reality: the Democrats must use reconciliation to pass health care because they no longer have a filibuster-proof majority; they no longer have a filibuster-proof majority in part because of health care. Their chosen strategy may pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, but it suggests a blatant disregard for public opinion.

This is par for the course for the 44th President, who has made pretty clear his belief that, when he and the people disagree, the people must be in error. Democratic primary voters in small town Pennsylvania opposed him not because he was inexperienced, you see, but because their bitterness made them provincial. Now, Americans who don't support this bill simply don't understand it. They'll see things better after the Congress passes it.

Such arrogance makes for bad politics because it's un-democratic. Yet it's also un-Democratic. It's not unreasonable to expect the party of the people to respect the judgment of the people, especially on an issue that is so important and that has attracted so much attention. The public is as well informed about the health care debate as they ever are about anything. One would hope that the Democratic Party would acknowledge and respect this fact.

Progressives at liberal opinion journals and in the D.C. press corps have had trouble with this idea - and have ironically taken to employing fallacies of composition to suggest that public opposition is irrational. The people like the various elements of the bill, so the fact that they dislike the whole thing is a sign that they're not thinking clearly. If this argument was valid - if the whole was merely the sum of its parts - the Washington Redskins, an organization that likes to lure the best players from other teams rather than build from the ground up, would stand at the top of the National Football League.

The Democratic Party is broader than its progressive intellectuals and media cheerleaders. It has the majority not just because of San Francisco, California - but also Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Zanesville, Ohio. Those places voted Democratic in the 2008 House elections. Some progressives, especially in the blogosphere, see that as a problem - the "ConservaDems" they elect hold up true progress. But it's historically the greatest strength of the Democratic Party, whose appeal has long been much broader than the GOP's.

House Democrats should bear this in mind as they consider the current reforms. This bill would signal not just a major change in health care, but also in the Democratic Party itself. The end result will be a smaller, more narrowly liberal party that is less trusted by the mass public to respect its collective judgment. The party will keep San Francisco and The New Republic, but sooner or later they'll lose Murfreesboro and Zanesville.

Mr. Obama has indicated that he is all right with this. But in our system of separated powers, his opinion is insufficient. Ultimately, the decision rests with Southern and Midwestern House Democrats. They must make the final choice. They can vote with the President on a bill whose substance and process reflect little of the grandest traditions of the Democratic Party. Or they can stand up to him, and tell him that they have had enough of his condescending attitude and strong-arm tactics.

What moderate House Democrats should not do is assume that, if they vote with him on this one, President Obama will stop here. This President talked during the campaign about building a broad consensus for change. Yet when push comes to shove, he cares much more about change than consensus. He plans to tackle immigration reform, and there's no doubt he's still eyeing cap-and-trade. He has promised the Congressional Progressive Caucus that they can revisit health care later. If their constituents ultimately disapprove, moderate House Democrats shouldn't expect Barack Obama to give a damn. That's not his style. He likes to give lip service to consensus - but when you read the fine print, he inevitably defines any divergent viewpoints as out-of-bounds. He did it on the stimulus. He's doing it on health care. If moderate House Democrats don't stand up to him now, he'll do it on cap-and-trade, immigration reform, and who knows what else. Sooner or later, their constituents will elect representatives who will stand up to the President.

And those new representatives will probably be Republicans.

Follow me now on Twitter, and be sure to check out my health care whip count, updated as new information comes in.

-Jay Cost

Counting the Heads of House Democrats / Updated 3-14

I'm no longer updating this page, as I think it is redundant now that The Hill's whip count is in full swing. I'll still be posting new info on Twitter as I find it.

Remember, check back in for updates as I find them. If you have news that I haven't covered, send it my way! Also, you can follow me on Twitter for updates.

Current Categories (As of 8:10 PM 3/14)
     Democrats Who Voted Nay in November
          Very Hard to Persuade: 27
          Hard to Persuade: 4
          Persuadable: 6
     Democrats Who Voted Yea in November
          Suggested Might Now Vote Nay (Including Confirmed Stupak Democrats): 21
          Other Possible Stupak Democrats: 6

I explain below why I'm not doing a yea-and-nay count, akin to what the Hill is currently compiling. Those original comments are buried under a week's worth of updates, so I'll repost here:

I'm compiling an alternative count that is based upon public statements and a few key factors, placing members into several categories - all of which allow for the possibility of a nay-to-yea flip. Even if a member comes out and says no, he/she might still change his/her mind. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky did exactly that in 1993 on the Clinton budget vote.

My categories are meant to be soft. The lines between them get pretty blurry at the margins. This is really more of a working list I'm compiling for myself, which I've decided to share because of all the spin and faulty information out there.

Believe me, I'd like to do a firmer count than the above categories. I just don't think one is possible, at least not from the vantage point of an outside observer relying on media reports.


Update 8:10 PM 3/14 Earlier in the week, I noted that Steve Dreihaus (OH-1), long rumored to be one of Stupak's dozen, had an ambiguously-worded statement on his website indicating his opposition to abortion funding in the health care bill. An interview with Driehaus by the Cincinnati Inquirer is much less ambiguous:

Driehaus did vote in favor of the health care bill that cleared the House last year, saying he was proud to stand with his colleagues to support health care reform and calling the vote "historic."

But the bill that could come before the House for a vote this month is a different version. Some say the Senate-passed measure does not contain enough restrictions on using federal money for abortions.

For Driehaus, who is Catholic, that's a deal breaker.

"While I certainly support this initiative ... I will not bend on the principle of federal funding on abortion," Driehaus said in an interview with The Enquirer. "They are going to have to do it without me and without the other pro-life Democrats."

As always, there is wiggle room here - but this is a pretty tough statement. I'm going to add him to my list of Democrats who had supported the bill in November, but who have since suggested they might defect.

Update 7:05 PM 3/14 Jerry Costello (IL-12) has long been rumored to be a Stupak Democrat. Today, in an interview published by the Alton, IL Telegraph, he indicates he's opposed to the bill in its current form:

With the proposed health care reform up for a vote this week, U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Belleville) said he is unsure of what the outcome will be.

"As of today, it looks like the process that will be followed will be that the speaker intends to have us vote on the Senate-passed bill and then a separate bill with corrections to the Senate bill," he said. "I'm opposed to the Senate bill in its current form."

His concerns with voting for the Senate bill are that it would allow public funding for abortions, that the congressional budget office has yet to determine the cost of the bill, and that partially funding the bill by slowing the growth of Medicare by $500 billion would adversely affect senior citizens.

"I don't like the process at all - I think the White House and the leadership has bungled this from the start," he said. "It's so complicated that the American people are fearful of what's in the bill - this is a very complex issue that affects every man, woman and child, and it's so complex that it scares people."

While the vast majority of calls, e-mails and letters Costello has received are opposed to the bill, he said that not one person has said nothing needs to be done.

Instead, Costello believes legislation should be passed that addresses three or four key issues that would garner bipartisan support, such as allowing coverage for pre-existing conditions, revoking insurance companies' anti-trust exemption to allow greater competition in the industry to bring down rates, extending insurance coverage for dependents until age 26 and establishing community health care clinics for the uninsured to have access to preventive health care.

He doesn't shut the door all the way. He says, "I have stated that I will not vote for the Senate bill in its current form...If that changes between now and the time we vote on it, then I will have to reconsider, but in its current form I will vote against it." Still, his list of grievances go beyond the reports of the purported House-Senate compromise - including Medicare cuts, abortion, a lack of bipartisanship, and public disapproval. He leaves himself an out, but not much of one.

Accordingly, I've added him to my list of Democrats who voted yea in November, but who have now said something negative about the bill.

Update 10:15 PM 3/13 I'm adding Rick Boucher (VA-9) to my list of members who voted nay who are now "Very Hard to Persuade," based on this local news report:

U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said Friday he could not support health care reform legislation that includes heavy cuts to Medicare, a position he has held since his first vote against the package and his party's move to push legislation through Congress.

Boucher said he needs to see whatever deal is being cobbled together.

"I am very concerned about a number of things. First, we do not have a text of the legislation before us. That is still being discussed and negotiated. Obviously, I will withhold any judgment until I review it very carefully. I do have concerns about a number of matters I anticipate being in the draft, however," he said.

Boucher said he is hearing that cuts to Medicare funding to help pay for the reform package "may be as great as $500 billion. That's 'billion' with a 'B.'"

A funding cut of that significance would jeopardize the financial health of hospitals and physicians in Southwest Virginia, he said.

"I am persuaded that Medicare cuts at that level would impair the delivery of health care within our region. We have a large population that receives Medicare. It is the principal source of income for our nonprofit hospitals and virtually all the hospitals in my district," Boucher said.

"Also, so many of our doctors receive a significant part of their income from Medicare as well. So from the vantage point of our senior citizens and the vantage point of hospitals and doctors who deliver health care, these levels of Medicare funding reductions that I anticipate being in the measure are simply not acceptable, and that fact will weigh heavily in my perception of the legislation when I have the opportunity to review it."

If reform advocates want to know why their poll numbers remain well under water, one need look no further than comments like this. This is a Democrat talking about how the bill will cut Medicare too much. For nearly a year, we have seen precisely this. It hasn't been Democrats versus Republicans. It's been Democrats versus Republicans and Moderate Democrats.

At any rate, Boucher was on my list of "Hard to Persuade," and I was very skeptical he would every go along with the reform efforts. He voted for cap-and-trade last year - a high-risk vote considering his district. That ultimately drew a top-tier challenger in Morgan Griffith, the Majority Leader of the Virginia House of Delegates. Boucher needs to put distance between himself and the President. These comments are a strong indication that he plans to use next week's vote to do precisely that.

Update, 11:00 PM 3/12 CNN reports that Heath Shuler will vote nay. I already had him in my "Very Hard To Persuade" category, based upon comments he made to a local news outlet that expressed reservations about using reconciliation. I have updated the link.

Update, 12:01 PM 3/12 Moving Ben Chandler (KY-6) from the "Hard to Persuade" category to the "Very Hard to Persuade" category, based on this report from Greg Sargent:

Dem Rep Ben Chandler of Kentucky, a prominent Blue Dog who voted No last time but has since been undecided, will vote against the Senate bill.

"Congressman Chandler's position on the bill remains the same," Chandler spokesperson Jennifer Krimm tells our reporter Ryan Derousseau. "He expects to vote against the legislation."

John McCain performed very well in Chandler's Kentucky district, which includes Lexington. I'm not surprised by this bit of news. Chandler was always going to be a tough get for the leadership.

Update, 7:15 PM 3/11: More bad news for reform advocates. Henry Cuellar (TX-27) appears to be a Stupak Democrat, according to Investor's Business Daily:

"I want to make sure that the Henry Hyde amendment that federal funds not being used for abortion is adhered to," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who says he's a Stupak supporter.

I had Cuellar on my list of Democrats who had voted yes but who had since signaled they might not stay on board. I had also suspected that he might be a Stupak Democrat, but the public documentation I had did not suggest that. The previous report emphasized his concerns about the bill's impact on rural people. The comments from Cuellar today are much stronger and more pointed, even though it doesn't change the overall counts. I'll update the documentation below with this new piece of data.

That IBD report also has harsh comments from Marion Berry (AR-1). He voted for the bill in November, and he had already signaled that he was part of the Stupak bloc, but today he had some very negative things to say about the bill:

"The way it treats Medicare is not fair to states like mine...And it treats pharmacists like the trash of health care providers."

Ouch. Like I said, bad day for reform advocates.

Update, 7 PM 3/11: The Hill reports the following about Luis Gutierrez (IL-4):

The healthcare bill's immigration provisions are enough to spur Hispanic members of Congress to vote against it, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Thursday.

Gutierrez, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) in which he serves as chairman of its Immigration Task Force, said the caucus still has concerns over the extent to which the healthcare bill excludes illegal immigrants as well as legal residents from receiving benefits in the healthcare plan.

"They are enough to say I can't support this bill," Gutierrez said during an appearance on MSNBC."

As I mentioned earlier in the day, I've decided not to include on this count liberal members whose objections come from the left. I think two points of amplification are appropriate to make:

(a) When push comes to shove, will Gutierrez choose to vote down a bill that insures 30 million additional people? I'm skeptical.

(b) Gutierrez comes from a one-party district, meaning that there's nobody to run attack ads on him for saying negative things about the bill that he ultimately votes for. This distinguishes him from a guy like Heath Shuler, who has made negative comments about using reconciliation. Shuler is somewhat locked in now - at the least, he can expect that if he supports a reconciliation process, his opponents will attack him. Gutierrez does not have that kind of worry (neither does Capuano), which in turn makes me suspect that he and Capuano might be trying to bargain.

Nevertheless, to have liberals like Gutierrez and Capuano talking negatively about the bill is a bad sign for the Democratic leadership as they try to push this through. If Gutierrez and Capuano are articulating a common sentiment among the progressive and minority factions in the caucus, that is really not a good thing.

All in all, today seemed like a bad news day for reform advocates. You have comments from Gutierrez and Capuano. You have the suggestion from Chairman Waxman that they're abandoning an attempt to strike a deal with Stupak. You have the decision of the Senate parliamentarian that the Senate bill has to become law. A rough day. The silver lining for reform advocates was that Vic Snyder (AR-2) has signaled that he is still on boar. Snyder voted for the bill in November. He is also retiring, so the leadership really has no excuse not to get him. But still, a bright spot on a cloudy day for reform proponents.

Update, 3:45 PM 3/11: Talking Points Memo reports that Michael Capuano (MA-8) has serious reservations about the Senate bill. They quote in full the text of a letter he sent to his constituents. It is highly critical. Still, I'm not prepared to put him on this list because of my skepticism about defections from the left. When push comes to shove, I think members like Capuano will vote with the President rather than kill the bill.

Even if it doesn't merit inclusion in the count, this news is not insignificant. If the left wing of the House caucus is lukewarm (at best) about this bill, and the middle/right of the caucus is nervous about the political implications - the Speaker has an even tougher time getting to 216. I firmly believe that Capuano will be there if she has 215 votes and needs one more, but comments like his prevent her from getting even that close.

Update, 3:30 PM 3/11: Adding Tim Bishop (NY-1) and Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8) to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November but who are now undecided, thanks to this report from CNN:

CNN also contacted a number of House Democrats who voted in favor of the November House bill and who also represent conservative or competitive districts.

Of those, Reps. Michael Arcuri of New York, Marion Berry of Arkansas, Tim Bishop of New York, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois and Bart Stupak of Michigan said they would vote against the Senate bill as written but said they would consider supporting it with significant changes.

Also, to reitierate, to get on this list of former yes votes who are now reconsidering, it is insufficient just to say something like, "I'm going to wait and see." These members have to express that they have substantive concerns that go beyond things like the Cornhusker Kickback. With CNN saying that Bishop and Giffords need "significant changes" and with it placing these two with others who are already on my list, in my judgment it is sufficent to add their names.

Update, 1:10 PM 3/11: Several readers have passed on this report about the Congressional Hispanic Caucus potentially voting no. I'm highly skeptical about defections from the left on this. I put Raul Grivalja in my count of previous yes votes who might flip to no - and then a day later he walked back his criticism. I think that - at the end of the day - there will be very few defections from the left. Possibly, even probably, just Dennis Kucinich. I think the rest of the liberal members will look at the final product and think that while it has warts, it covers 31 million people, and that makes it worth voting for. I'd note with interest that some 60 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus wrote a letter indicating in no uncertain terms that a lack of a public option is a deal-breaker - but, as we all know, it wasn't.

Update, 12:50 PM 3/11: The Hill reports that Mike McIntyre has confirmed to them that he is a no. I had him in my "Very Hard to Persuade" category because of his strong pro-life voting record. I'm updating the notation to reflect this statement.

The Hill's whip count differs from mine in several aspects, although at this point we both have 25 Democrats in our most negative category. Here are the differences.

-I have Jason Altmire (PA-4) in my "Very Hard to Persuade" category. They have him in their "Undecided" category. Altmire has been all over the map in the last few weeks - and I've noticed that he is maximizing his "face time," something that does not surprise me. He's a tough vote to categorize - but I'm keeping him in my "Very Hard to Persuade" category. He voted against the rule for debate on the House bill in November, which suggests that political positioning is a top concern of his. His district gave McCain 54% of the vote, so political positioning would predict a nay vote.

-They have John Adler in their "Firm No, Leaning No, Likely No" category, based upon his comments on Fox News Sunday. I have him in my "Persuadable" category.

-I have Allen Boyd (FL-2) in my "Very Hard to Persuade" category, based upon his criticism of using reconciliation to pass the bill, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. They him in their "Undecided" category.

-They have Jim Matheson (UT-2) in their "Firm No, Leaning No, LIkely No" category. I have him in my "Hard to Persuade" category.

-I have Heath Shuler (NC-11) in my "Very Hard to Persuade" category based upon his negative comments about the use of reconciliation to a local newspaper. They have him in their "Undecided" category.

-They have Harry Teague (NM-2) in their "Firm No, Leaning No, LIkely No" category. I have him in my "Hard to Persuade" category.

There is a lot of overlap here. And I can appreciate why The Hill has categorized these members differently than I have. I encourage you to book make their whip count, as well as the one my former colleague Reid Wilson is working on over at Hotline On Call. The inherent uncertainty of this project - and the inevitability of judgment calls on the part of the analyst - makes it most helpful for the readers to have multiple analyses close at hand.

Update, 12:07 PM 3/11 Tim Holden (PA-17) confirms that he is a no to a local newspaper:

"I will not vote for the Senate bill," Holden said. "It makes significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid ... and the restrictions on (federal funding for) abortion are not as strong."

I already had Holden in my "Very Hard to Persuade" category because of his strong pro-life voting record. I'm updating the notation to reflect this statement.

Update, 6:15 PM 3/10 Steve Driehaus (OH-1) has put up the following statement on his website:

Last fall, I worked to pass legislation to bring needed changes to our health care system, while putting in place strict prohibitions on the use of taxpayer funding for abortion. The House will soon take up this issue again. When there is a final piece of legislation, I will take the time needed to review the bill and determine how I will vote. However, my overall position is unchanged. Health care reform is critically important for our nation, and I support efforts to enact changes to our system - if those changes are done the right way. But I'm firm in my commitment that I won't support legislation that provides federal funding for abortion.

I cannot determine whether this means that Driehaus believes the Nelson language in the Senate bill "provides (for) federal funding for abortion." I have made an inquiry with his office, and when I hear something definitive, I will update accordingly. Until then, I am not going to make any changes to this list.

Update, 11:45 AM 3/10 Adding Joe Donnelly (IN-2) to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November but who are now undecided, thanks to this report:

Joe Donnelly would prefer voting on health care reform one piece at a time.

Donnelly, the Granger Democrat who represents Fulton County in the U.S. Congress, points to the demise of an insurance industry anti-trust exemption. It was recently flushed by a 409-16 vote. "That's in the big (Senate health care reform) bill," he said. "But being part of the big bill, it's hard to get things done. When they stand alone, you can actually get things accomplished," Donnelly said...

Donnelly likes a lot about the bill, but its language on abortion is a "fatal flaw." For him, it is a deal breaker. "I would not vote for it," he said. He figures there will be a vote within a month or so. The abortion language is unpopular with "a significant" number of congressmen. It has the potential to kill the bill, he said.

Donnelly appears to be a Stupak Democrat.

Thanks to reader Ted for the tip!

Update, 12:45 AM 3/10 Taking Dale Kildee off the list of potential Stupak Democrats because of these comments.

Update, 5:50 PM 3/9 Courtesy of FireDogLake, Jerry McNerney (CA-11) walks back about 90% of the impression left in that report from Morgan Hill Times.

McNerney certainly has concerns with the Senate proposal, in particular the backroom deals that favored some states over others, and the level of coverage (31 million, down from 36 million in the Senate bill). But McNerney wants to see some fixes, and will hold for language before making a full appraisal of how to vote. When told that the reconciliation fixes under consideration included an elimination of those backroom deals, Hersh said that such changes "would certainly go a long way" toward making the Congressman more comfortable voting for passage. She expected to see "a number of corrections made" in the press about where McNerney stands.

It's a judgment call, to be sure, but I'm taking him off the list.

Update, 1:40 PM 3/9 Adding Jerry McNerney (CA-11) to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November but who are now undecided, thanks to this report:

McNerney criticized the current version of healthcare reform passed by the U.S. Senate for the deals it makes with certain states, its lack of a public option and the inadequate number of people it extends coverage to. He said he would not vote in favor of that version of the bill if it comes back to the House.

"We want to get our healthcare up to international standards, and we want to do it in a way that is American," McNerney said in response to a question from the audience. "Costs are escalating at a rate that's unacceptable, and the people want something done."

Thanks to Twitter follower "sulzinator" for the link!

Also, a note on methodology. My rule for adding former yea voters to the list of waverers has had to become a little more developed since I first published this list. My attitude is that it is not enough for a member to say that he/she is now "undecided." I need to read about them making a negative about the Senate bill. This is why, for instance, some journalists have John Spratt as "undecided" but he is not on my list because I have not heard a specific complaint from him about the Senate bill.

Additionally, I'm operating under the assumption that the special carve-outs like the Cornhusker Kickback are getting dropped in the final package, so if a member just complains about the insider deals, he/she won't get on the list.

In McNerney's case, he has said negative things about the Cornhusker Kickback. But that's not enough for me. McNerney also bemoaned the lack of a public option and insufficient coverage. Combine that with his statement that he won't vote for the Senate bill, and that's enough to put him on my list.

Update, 1:30 AM 3/9 Adding Steve Kagen (WI-8) to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November but who are now undecided, thanks to this report:

(Fox News 11) asked the Congressmen from Northeast Wisconsin about voting on the Senate bill...

"Let me put it this way: you're asking whether or not I trust the United States Senate, where they came up with a deal for Nebraska that the other states didn't get; where Louisiana would get a special deal. No, I don't trust the U.S. Senate," said Rep. Steve Kagen (D-8th District). "So I think I'd like to have a vote on something very meaningful."

Kagen said the health care bill should be split up into smaller bills.

"I have made the case to the speaker and also to the White House that we should take small pieces, small bites," Kagen said. "In the practice of medicine, I can't give a child a big pill. What do we do? We cut it up into pieces. Let's find things we can agree on."

Update, 6 PM 3/8 Adding Dan Maffei (NY-25) to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November but who are now undecided, thanks to this report, in which Maffei says, "The Senate bill, in my view, burns the village in order to save it. I will say, however, the president's direct involvement gives me hope they will come up with a compromise."

Update, 5:30 PM 3/8 Adding Henry Cuellar (TX-28) to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November but who are now undecided, thanks to this report. Also, Kathy Dahlkemper was on the list of suspected Stupak Democrats. Her representative confirms that the Senate abortion language is unacceptable, "period." Thus, I move her to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November but who are now undecided.

Update, 12:15 PM 3/8: Moved Dan Lipinski (IL-3) to the category of Democrats who voted yea in November who have now explicitly said something negative about the current legislation. The Weekly Standard reports:

Asked if the congressman is "open to voting for a health care bill that lacks the Stupak amendment," Lipinski's spokesman Nathaniel Zimmer replied in an email to THE WEEKLY STANDARD: "No. Congressman Lipinski will not vote for a health care bill that provides federal funding for abortion."

Lipinski was included on my list of potential Stupak Democrats. Now that he has "outed" himself as such, he goes into the list of Democratic supporters from November who are now wavering.

Update, 4:45 PM 3/6: A lot of readers have asked me for a head count on the vote. Unfortunately, I'm unable to give one at this point. Everything is just too fuzzy, and I generally like to put stuff up on the blog that I have a high degree of confidence in. For what it's worth, I don't see anything less than 35 defections from Democrats on this bill - including a very large majority of those who had voted nay in November. That doesn't say very much, I know, but it's the best I can do right now. Again, the lesson of Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky is that the only head count that we can have confidence in is the final roll call vote!

In the meantime, a major objective of this list is to clarify what I think are confusing and even inaccurate reports out there. I got tired of seeing so many journalists talk about the "39 Democrats," turning answers that are clearly punts (e.g. "I want to look at the bill") into claims of being "undecided," selectively emphasizing those nay voters who want to look at the bill over the yea voters who have major problems, and just plain ignoring local news reports.

Another objective is just to compile and collate information into reliable categories. Data is scattered all over the place - and I've trained Google Reader onto collecting as much of it as I can. I'll put the good news items up here. I like the categories I've put together. They seem reasonable enough. So, I'll continue to shift members between these categories as new information comes in.

Update, 2:45 PM 3/7: After the Sunday shows, I've decided to make no changes in any of my ratings. Jason Altmire said some positive things about the bill on Fox News Sunday, but he also brought up abortion, the Senate's willingness to deal in good faith, and the importance of public opinion in his (Republican-leaning) district. Those are all in the negative. Altmire's comments to the New York Times last week were much more direct, and directly negative. Generally, Altmire has a long track record of inserting himself into national news stores that deal with process rather than the issues directly affect his district. (Those of us who live in Western PA who pay attention to this kind of stuff find his media...umm..."savviness" kind of funny!) My hunch is that he wants to be in the game, but that he will ultimately be a nay because he wants to stay in Congress. After all, he voted against the House bill in Energy and Commerce, and then he voted against the rule on debate for the House bill. This is a member who is concerned about politics, and more specifically about building a solid record of opposition. I'm keeping him in the "Hard to Persuade" category - his vote against the rule in November remains the tipoff to me that he's playing political games. It's a judgment call, for sure, and that's why I'm spelling it out here.

Update, 3:30 PM 3/6: A recent report suggested that Raul Grijalva - co-chair of the progressive caucus - is leaning back toward supporting the bill. I have him on my list of fence-sitters who had previously voted nay. I'll keep him on for now, but he looks like a gettable vote if the final margin is close. Thanks to reader Michael for the tip!

Update, 2:30 AM 3/6: I am adding Baron Hill (IN-9) and Marion Berry (AR-1) to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November, but who are now reconsidering. Berry appears to be a Stupak Democrat. (Thanks to readers Darrin and Robert for sending in the links!) Also, I am moving Mike Ross (AR-4) from "Hard to Persuade" to "Very Hard To Persuade."

Update, 12 AM 3/6: Adding Dina Titus (NV-3) to the list of Democrats who voted yea in November, but who are now reconsidering.

Update, 4 PM 3/5: Eric Massa's planned resignation takes him off the list. There are now 37 Democrats who voted nay in November who will be Democrats when (if?) the next vote occurs. With the House vacancies being what they are now, Speaker Pelosi will need 216 votes to pass the bill.


There has been a lot of talk about the 38 House Democrats who voted against health care reform in November. There have been suggestions that some are about to flip, fueled in no small part by this piece from the AP:

In interviews with the AP, at least nine of the 39 Democrats -- or their spokesmen -- either declined to state their positions or said they were undecided about the revised legislation, making them likely targets for intense wooing by Pelosi and Obama.

I agree with Jane Hamsher: this is a non-story. For starters, we have to correct a basic factual error, one I have seen repeated again and again by authors who should know better: there are not 39 Democrats who voted against the bill in November. There are 38. There were 39, until Parker Griffith switched to the GOP. So, AP meant to say that 9 of 38 are either undecided or "declined to state" their position. Yet since this article was published, Frank Kratovil has since clarified his position; what's more, Michael McMahon had previously indicated that he was against the bill. So, let's call it 7/38, not 9/39. Update, 4 PM 3/5: With Massa's resignation, call it 7/37.

Is this a big deal? I don't think so. How many members should we expect to take a hard-and-fast stand on a bill that has not yet been finalized? If I were a Democratic legislator - I would say something like what (at least a few of) these members said: "I believe in quality, affordable health care for all. When there is a final package, I will read it and make a decision." Otherwise, I would look awfully prejudiced. The more interesting story, in my judgment, is that several have said they were already decided against the bill.

I'm compiling an alternative count that is based upon public statements and a few key factors, placing members into several categories - all of which allow for the possibility of a nay-to-yea flip. Even if a member comes out and says no, he/she might still change his/her mind. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky did exactly that in 1993 on the Clinton budget vote.

My categories are meant to be soft. The lines between them get pretty blurry at the margins. This is really more of a working list I'm compiling for myself, which I've decided to share because of all the spin and faulty information out there.

The first group I label, "Very Hard to Persuade," i.e. it will be no little feat to bring that member from a nay to a yea. I put a member in there if:

(1) The member has communicated something negative about the Senate bill, or the pending House-Senate compromise.

(2) The member comes from a district where John McCain won 60% or more of the vote, and is running for reelection.

(3) The member has a lifetime National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) score greater than 80%.

Several of these members possess more than one of these qualities. I listed the above qualities in what I think their order of salience is. A member's most salient quality is the one I've listed next to his name below.

I count 27 in this group:

1. Jason Altmire (PA-4) (communication)
2. John Barrow (GA-12) (communication)
3. Dan Boren (OK-2) (communication)
4. Rick Boucher (VA-9) (communication)
5. Allen Boyd (FL-2) (communication)
6. Bobby Bright (AL-2) (communication)
7. Ben Chandler (KY-6) (communication)
8. Travis Childers (MS-1) (McCain won 62%)
9. Artur Davis (AL-7) (communication)
10. Lincoln Davis (TN-4) (McCain won 64%)
11. Chet Edwards (TX-17) (communication)
12. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL) (communication)
13. Tim Holden (PA-17) (communication)
14. Larry Kissell (NC-8) (communication)
15. Frank Kratovil (MD-1) (communication)
16. Dennis Kucinich (OH-10) (communication)
17. Jim Marshall (GA-8) (communication)
18. Mike McIntyre (NC-7) (communication)
19. Mike McMahon (NY-13) (communication)
20. Charlie Melancon (LA-3) (communication)
21. Walt Minnick (ID-1) (communication)
22. Collin Peterson (MN-7) (communication)
23. Mike Ross (AR-4) (communication)
24. Heath Shuler (NC-11) (communication)
25. Ike Skelton (MO-4) (communication)
26. John Tanner (TN-8) (communication)
27. Gene Taylor (MS-4) (communication)

The next category I call "Hard to Persuade." It's based upon two factors.

(1) The member's race is currently rated "toss-up" by Charlie Cook, and the member is running for reelection.

(2) The member comes from a district where John McCain won 55% to 60% of the vote, and is running for reelection.

Here are these members.

1. Betsy Markey (CO-4) (Cook rates toss-up)
2. Jim Matheson (UT-2) (McCain won 58%)
3. Glenn Nye (VA-2) (Cook rates toss-up)
4. Harry Teague (NM-2) (Cook rates toss-up)

That leaves six members I'd put in the "Persuadable" category.

1. John Adler (NJ-3)
2. Brian Baird (WA-3)
3. John Boccieri (OH-16)
4. Bart Gordon (TN-6)
5. Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24)
6. Scott Murphy (NY-20)

On the flip side, we have (so far) twenty Democrats who voted yes in November who have since suggested they might not be willing to sign on to a new bill.

1. Michael Arcuri (NY-24)
2. Marion Berry (AR-1)
3. Shelley Berkley (NV-1)
4. Tim Bishop (NY-1)
5. Dennis Cardoza (CA-18)
6. Jerry Costello (IL-12)
7. Henry Cuellar (TX-27) (see also here)
8. Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-3)
9. Joe Donnelly (IN-2)
10. Steve Driehaus (OH-1)
11. Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8)
12. Raul Grijalva (AZ-7) (Update, 3:30 PM 3/6: Or maybe not?)
13. Baron Hill (IN-9)
14. Steve Kagen (WI-9)
15. Dan Lipinski (IL-3)
16. Dan Maffei (NY-25)
17. James Oberstar (MN-8)
18. Earl Pomeroy (ND-AL)
19. Kurt Schrader (OR-5)
20. Bart Stupak (MI-1)
21. Dina Titus (NV-3)

What about the so-called "Stupak Democrats?" Berry, Costello, Cuellar, Dahlkemper, Lipinski, Oberstar, and (of course!) Stupak fall into this category, but there are probably others. I have two ways to gauge who they might be.

1. They voted for the Stupak amendment and they have a lifetime NRLC rating of higher than 80%.

2. They voted for the Stupak amendment and they signed a letter in June, 2009 saying that they would oppose a bill "unless it explicitly excludes abortion funding from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan."

I've made a note of those who fall into both categories.

1. Brad Ellsworth (IN-8) (NRLC score of 91%)
2. Paul Kanjorski (PA-11) (signed letter)
3. Marcy Kaptur (OH-9) (signed letter)
4. Alan Mollohan (WV-1) (NRLC score of 97%)
5. Solomon Ortiz (TX-27) (both)
6. Nick Rahall (WV-3) (NRLC score of 97%)

Charlie Wilson (OH-6) has been mentioned as a Stupak Democrat, though he does not fit these categories. Using a different, but equally good, methodology - Chris Bowers of Open Left finds a lot of overlap. He adds Chris Carney (PA-10), Mike Doyle (PA-14), Baron Hill (D-IN), and Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-1) while removing Kaptur and Ortiz. Kirkpatrick does not fit his methodology, having voted against the Stupak amendment in November - but the rest of them make sense. Doyle has a very high NRLC score (77%) while Hill and Carney come from pro-life districts. Update, 2:30 AM 3/6: As mentioned above, Hill has suggested that he is wavering, in part because of the use of reconciliation. Also, it's important to note that my methodology did not catch Marion Berry as a potential defector because of abortion. This just underscores the roughness of my count. Even members who seem to have committed can flip back. Remember MM-M!

Bottom line: Democratic leaders have a tough road ahead.

I'm going to keep updating this. Check back regularly with this page if you are interested. Also, if I've missed an important news items that relates to one of these members, please forward it to me at horseraceblog@realclearpolitics.com!

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-Jay Cost