How Do You Whip Nonexistent Legislation?

by Benjamin Domenech on 11:28 am March 10, 2010

Nancy Pelosi at work


My personal back of the envelope whip count on health care reform today puts the total House Aye votes at 205.

The New York Times this morning has a report on a key parliamentary decision which will determine whether the current strategy on health care is even possible. We noted this yesterday in the context of reconciliation news, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had mentioned it earlier as a very real possibility. Essentially, this parliamentary requirement would demand that the president sign or veto the Senate health care bill after it theoretically passed the House, meaning that no reconciliation changes could be done in the Senate in time.

As with all parliamentary decisions, this is going to raise a lot of questions and result in some delay, but will probably turn out to be a false barrier to proceeding. There is always a way to navigate around such provisions.

Whip Counts

As resources for tabulating names, Reid Wilson’s whip count at the Hotline and Jay Cost’s whip count at RealClearPolitics are both worth looking at. But you should keep in mind that whipping has not yet begun in earnest according to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — primarily because there’s no legislation to actually count votes for!

Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat who serves as chief vote-counter, said that Democrats are waiting to see the final legislative language on healthcare before they worry about counting votes.

“When we get that language, we will start our whipping operation,” Clyburn said during an appearance on MSNBC. “We haven’t started whipping yet.”

The lack of legislative language is also preventing CBO from scoring the bill, which provides a natural excuse for some Blue Dogs to not take a position on the matter.

Swing Votes

Nonetheless, it seems clear who the swing votes are on health care — the factions include progressives reluctant to support a bill without a public option, undecided committee chairmen, and the much-discussed abortion faction, of which Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) is the most prominent. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) made a point of saying yesterday that abortion funding is a serious issue which must be resolved before they can proceed.

Stupak, who talked to us months ago about his commitment to hold the line on taxpayer funding for abortions, discussed his position yesterday with The Weekly Standard. Stupak again points out that he needs to see the language of an actual bill before he determines his path:

The president still hasn’t put forth his proposal. I mean, other than the 11 pages [of changes], we’ve seen nothing in writing. It’s different than what the Senate did. So do they take three [measures] and merge it into one and stick it in a bill called reconciliation, or just do the Senate bill as a stand alone?

For his stance on the abortion issue, Stupak has already received a primary challenger.

People Still Oppose Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) attracted attention for insisting in remarks this week that people won’t appreciate how great the health plan is until after it passes — saying “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it – away from the fog of the controversy.”

Yet it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is Pelosi’s approach, given that the American people don’t seem to appreciate the bill at all:

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters say the health care reform plan now working its way through Congress will hurt the U.S. economy, while just 25% think the plan will help the economy.

All this contrasts poorly with the latest remarks from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who acknowledged that “Anyone who would stand before you and say well, if you pass health care reform, next year’s health care premiums are going down, I don’t think is telling the truth. This is accurate, of course — but unwise to say in public.

No wonder Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) says this is about ideology, not policy.

crossposted at Health Care News.

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