Weekend At Bernie’s Health Care Reform Edition: This Dead Bill Is Looking Better Than Ever!

All week-end long, we’ve been treated to House leadership and the White House confidently asserting that health care is going to pass. “We’ll have the votes when the House votes, I think, within the next week,” said Robert Gibbs. Yahoo’s headlining an article “Pelosi confident House will pass health care bill.”. David Axelrod says Democrats “will have the votes to pass this.”

So, things are looking good for the Democrats? No, to the contrary, the news has been Hindenburg-crashing-into-the-Titanic bad for the Democrats. So if the news is so bad, why are we hearing all these confident pronouncements? Because the House leadership and White House are trying to game the House Democrats. If they create this sense that the bill is inevitable, as opposed to dying like a still-barely-twitching piece of roadkill, they can sucker Democrats into voting for it.

However, here’s the real situation.

* This is an extremely unpopular bill that’s not getting any more popular. I know, liberals have been trying to claim that the numbers for the bill are improving — and they have in meaningless polls of adults. In polls of likely voters, you know, the people who will be deciding whether or not members of Congress are fired in November, the terrible numbers haven’t moved significantly since November.

The other left-wing polling claims, “Ooooh, if we only poll people on the parts they like, the bill does well” and “The bill will surely get much more popular after it’s passed despite the fact that most of the benefits don’t kick in until 2014” are so patently ridiculous that I’m not even going to treat them seriously (If there are lots of people who really don’t get this, maybe I’ll do a post on it tomorrow, but it’s just silly).

* The Democratic leadership has given up on the Stupak block. This is a big deal, because despite some rather mopey comments from Stupak, he represents somewhere between 10-11 “yes” votes that will be flipping to “no” over abortion. If Pelosi had been able to get the bill through the first time without this block of Congressmen, she would have done it. Since then, the bill has only gotten more unpopular. If she couldn’t get the votes before, why would she be able to get them now?

* Because Obama will have to sign the bill working its way through the House before the Senate can start on reconciliation, there is no guarantee reconciliation will ever happen. In fact, odds are, reconciliation will never be completed. This is a big deal because Democrats in the House are fully aware of this and not too long ago, even Pelosi was saying that passing a bill without reconciliation was a non-starter. This is from the New York Times on Jan 21 of this year:

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, said on Thursday that Democrats remained committed to passing far-reaching health care legislation, but she said that the House would not simply adopt the Senate version of the bill and send it to President Obama…

…“Unease would be a gentle word in terms of the attitude of my colleagues toward certain provisions in the Senate bill,” Ms. Pelosi said.

“So in its present form without any change,” she added, “I don’t think it’s possible to pass the Senate bill in the House.”

She singled out a provision for the federal government to pay the entire cost of a proposed expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska, even though other states will eventually have to share the expense, which was added to the Senate bill by the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat.

Ms. Pelosi said she believed provisions like that contributed to the concerns of voters in Massachusetts.

“There’s some fundamentals in there that make it problematic for our members,” Ms. Pelosi said. “Some members say, and I respect this, some of the concerns that were expressed in Massachusetts were about certain provisions of the Senate bill. We want, obviously, to hear and heed what was said there and what is said across the country.”

Speaking of her rank-and-file, she added, “They don’t see why something that wasn’t even a fundamental part of the bill to begin with, that has been rejected by the American people, is something they should be called upon to vote for.”

Now, less than two months later, Nancy Pelosi is asking her members to vote for the Cornhusker Kickback, Louisiana Purchase, Gator Aid, and all the rest — even though they don’t like the Senate bill “as is” and can’t add any sweeteners without reconciliation. Meanwhile, both the Senate and the House are resorting to arcane legislative tricks to pass a wildly unpopular takeover of 1/6 of the US economy without a single Republican vote in the House and Senate — and this is in a post-Scott Brown political landscape.

Time is not on their side either. Every day brings the Democrats closer to an election where this bill will be political death for anyone supporting it in a swing district — and it’s not going to be forgotten.

That’s why they’re desperate to get an up or down vote now, before the Easter break, when the shaky Democrats know they’ll be screamed at by their constituents over the mere prospect that they might support this bill. Can you imagine what it will be like for blue dogs who support this bill over Easter break? Trust me: they’ve imagined it and they’ll be thinking about it before they vote.

But, you say: Can’t they just twist enough arms to get this done? Now see, that’s going to be very, very difficult in this case.

Why?

Well, they can’t change the Senate bill because they can’t get it back through the Senate. That means they can’t shove any new earmarks in the bill. Even if they could, the payoff wouldn’t be worth it — ask Ben Nelson about that.

Of course, the President could do a fundraiser and campaign for candidates in trouble. But, as The Politco has noted, moderate Democrats are already trying to keep Obama out of their districts:

Interviews with nearly a dozen congressional Democrats on the ballot this year reveal a decided lack of enthusiasm for having Obama come to their districts to campaign for them – the most basic gauge of a president’s popularity.

Some cite the president’s surely busy schedule. Others point to a practice of not bringing in national politicians to appear on their behalf. While these members aren’t necessarily attempting to distance themselves from the administration, there is nevertheless a noticeable reluctance to embrace the president among a certain class of incumbent, now that Obama’s approval rating has fallen to a new low – 46 percent in the latest Gallup survey.

It’s not an unusual development – President George W. Bush suffered a similar fate. As his popularity dipped and he became a more polarizing figure, few moderate Republicans wanted to be seen with him in their states for fear the association would be used against them by their rivals.

…But the sense of uncertainty over what to do with Obama seen last year in Virginia – in which Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds wrestled with whether to run with or from the president before ultimately embracing him in the campaign’s final weeks – now seems to be evolving into a firmer feeling among many centrist Democrats that they’d be better off without Obama appearing in their districts with them.

The White House got a taste of the awkwardness to come last week in Missouri, when Democratic Senate candidate Robin Carnahan and Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) were both no-shows at a fundraiser Obama keynoted in suburban St. Louis. (Sen. Claire McCaskill, an early Obama supporter who received some of the event’s proceeds for her 2012 reelection campaign, did attend.)

Here’s the basic problem: There’s probably nothing that Obama and Pelosi can offer Democrats in competitive districts that could even come close to making up for the damage that voting for this bill would do.

That’s why the vote count looks so terrible. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how connected they are, The Hill has the best whip count of anywhere I’ve seen online.

Their tally? There are 35 Democrats in the “Firm No, Leaning No, Likely No” category. The maximum number of Democrats who can defect and pass a bill? 37. The number of previous “yes” votes included in that number? 8. Keep in mind — Stupak supposedly has 10-11 “yes” votes that are willing to switch to “no” and at least 2 of the current “yes” to “no” votes aren’t Stupak language supporters. Put another way, there are already another 4-5 firm “no” votes out there in the “undecided category.”

Now, you may be wondering: how many Democrats are currently in the “undecided” category? It can’t be many, right? After all, Nancy Pelosi is so confident even though there appear to be enough “no” votes out there already to kill the bill. Actually, there are 72 undecided votes. If you assume that 4-5 of them are unannounced “no” votes from the Stupak block, Pelosi would have to convert every undecided vote to a “yes” and then pick up a few of the “no” leaners to pull this off. Now Pelosi will undoubtedly get a decent number of undecided votes, but can she really run the table and then some? Keep in mind that this isn’t even a complete list of the “undecideds” because “some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who are not mentioned below have threatened to vote no unless the Senate’s immigration-related provisions are changed.”

Moreover, the polling data on health care in some of these undecided districts is even worse than it is nationally. Take a look at these Tarrance Group polls of some of the “Undecided/No” districts:

The numbers show ominous news for House Democrats Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, Betsy Markey of Colorado, Baron Hill of Indiana, John Adler of New Jersey, Steve Driehaus and John Boccieri of Ohio, Dina Titus of Nevada, Mike McMahon of New York, and Jason Altmire and Chris Carney of Pennsylvania.

The highest level of support for the bill is 40 percent, in Titus and McMahon’s districts; even there, opposition runs 52 percent and 46 percent, respectively. The lowest level of support is in Carney’s district, at 28 percent.

Opposition is pretty strong across the board, lowest at 46 percent in McMahon’s district, highest in Markey’s and Carney’s districts at 58 percent.

Voters in every district said the vote would be “very” important to their decision this November, ranging from 63 percent in Giffords’s district to 81 percent in Altmire’s district.

While the sample size is a bit small, there’s not much reason to think this poll doesn’t catch the public mood fairly accurately.

Last fall, Giffords, Hill, Driehaus, Titus, and Carney voted “yes”; Adler, Markey*, McMahon, Boccieri, and Altmire voted “no.”

This isn’t a “yes” vote for these candidates; it’s sticking their neck in a political guillotine and waiting for it to be lopped off in November.

Incidentally, just in case you’re wondering, there has yet to be a single Democrat who voted “no” last time who has committed to voting “yes” this time around. There’s not even one so far.

Now, I can’t guarantee you that this bill isn’t going to pass. Obama is a corrupt, autocratic, Chicago punk who doesn’t give a d@mn what the American people want. If he can get this bill through, he’ll do it. But the odds are heavily stacked against this bill passing and it seems very unlikely that the Democrats can shove it through.

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