Showdown In The House
There's an important meeting today in the House of Representatives, where progressives and Blue Dogs will likely show their cards on health care reform.
The Blue Dog Coalition is engaged in a member-to-member whip operation in the House, beginning with a survey of its 52 lawmakers, to find out where they stand on critical health care issues. The principal focus is the public insurance option, but the canvass also touches on various tax and revenue increase proposals to pay for reform.
For the first time since they formed in 1995, the Blue Dogs have been out-organized by their liberal counterparts. The Congressional Progressive Caucus completed its first survey and began whipping back in the spring. They launched a final whip count last week that will be finished by Wednesday evening.
The whip count builds on an earlier letter that 60 members of the progressive caucus signed, pledging to oppose any health care bill without a "robust public option."
"We're going back to those people and saying, 'Hey, are you still with the letter?'" said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the CPC. "And if there's been slippage, how much? And if we have a committed core, how many?"
Grijalva is asking members to back the public option all the way through the process, not simply on the first vote on the House floor.
The count comes in advance of a critical House Democratic caucus meeting Thursday morning in the Capitol, where leadership will take their own whip count. The fate of the public option in the House will be largely determined by the parallel whip efforts -- and how aggressive each bloc is in pushing for its priorities. In other words, it comes down to which pack wants it more, the Blue Dogs or the progressives.
So far, Grijalva has intimated that he still has the votes, although he hasn't delivered an exact count. Blue Dogs are trying to bait Pelosi by claiming she doesn't have the votes for the bill as currently constructed, but we'll probably know that by tonight. For Pelosi's part, she has a plan to start finalizing the bill after the meeting, with a possible floor debate on the public option. However, she shot down the trigger today as "an excuse for not doing anything."
The Blue Dogs are also whining about not being protected from tough votes, because the mission of public service is to come up with the most bland, inoffensive legislation possible and not to do anything that might make anyone mad. That's the picture of leadership. These ConservaDems either don't understand politics very well or are just being opaque about their true feelings.
Politically vulnerable Democrats say Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders aren’t offering them the protection from tough votes that they did in the last Congress.
Conservative Democrats fear that dozens of members could be swept out of their districts in the midterm election next year, and that fear has been intensifying in recent weeks.
Between a tough vote on a climate change bill that many don’t expect to become law and a leftward push on healthcare legislation, Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) critics within her caucus say she’s left the so-called “majority makers” exposed.
“She keeps trying to push an unpopular package,” said Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), a centrist Blue Dog Democrat, referring to healthcare. “I think it’s fair to say they were better at it before.”
Another Blue Dog lawmaker put it more bluntly.
“They’re seriously endangering their majority,” said the Blue Dog, who requested anonymity. “With the increased margin and a [Democratic] president, there seems to be a different feeling.”
What would endanger the majority are two things - no health care bill, or a health care package without a public option, which translates into a health care package that nobody in the country would like. What you would have left is an individual mandate to force people to shell out money to private insurers only, without the price controls to make that insurance affordable, a recipe for a continued skyrocketing of premiums. People interface the health care market primarily through those premiums as long as they remain healthy, and without competition in the insurance market it's going to be hard to dial them downward. There is currently no provision forcing insurers to lower premiums as a function of lowered overall health care delivery system costs. Only competition will provide that.
As I've said, the insistence on the public option is a self-preservation strategy. Rahm Emanuel might want to throw up his hands and pretend that only Congress decides on it, but he may want to get involved. As someone who claims to have brought the Democrats the House and Senate, he should know a thing or two about losing a majority. He could also recall 1994, when he worked in the Clinton White House and pushed NAFTA on the Congress, and watched as conservative Democrats from rural districts, who lost the trust of the people through selling out their jobs, were the first in line to fall from the Gingrichites. Failure to energize the base and provide something tangible for people could produce a similar result.