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Countdown to the House Health Care Vote

November 6, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

It’s now just one day before the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on their bill to overhaul the health care system (H.R. 3962). Here’s a rundown of where things stand at this moment.

The Votes

The Democrats need a simple majority of 218 votes to pass the bill. This morning, House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer [D, MD-5] said they they didn’t quite have all the votes lined up yet, but that they were “very close.”

On Thursday, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8] said confidently that she “will” have the votes lined up by Saturday. Take her seriously on this — in her three years as Speaker, she has only lost on one major vote (the Wall Street bailout bill). She’s been in the situation of scrounging up votes from wavering Democrats at the last minute many times, but when the votes get tallied she always seems to prevail.

Forty House Democrats are threatening to vote against the bill unless its provisions banning federal funding for abortions are strengthened. That’s just about enough to sink the bill. Add to that the fact that a handful of conservative Democrats are opposing the bill flat-out and it becomes clear that Pelosi will have to do more than peel off a few of the 40 pro-life Dems with arm-twisting and earmarks.

The Bill

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet today at 2 p.m. ET to determine the rules that will govern the health care floor debate and vote. They’ll decide what, if any, amendments will be voted on as well as any last-minute changes that will be made to the bill. The Rules Committee is generally considered an extension of the Democratic leadership, so any changes or amendments that are agreed to by the committee today will be done at the behest of the leadership in order to win over on-the-fence Democrats.

You can read all of the amendments that have been submitted to the committee here.

Adoption of the 42-page Manager’s Amendment that was released on Wednesday will be included in the “rule” that the Rules Committee decides on today.

It is likely that they will add some new language to the bill’s provisions on abortion funding. Igor Volsky at the Wonk Room has a very handy chart showing the current bill’s abortion provisions and a couple possible changes that have been floated by pro-life Democrats. There are basically two proposals — 1) prevent all middle and low-income people buying insurance with affordability credits to buy plans that cover elective abortions, and 2) tweak the bill’s language regarding the segregation of funds that would keep federal funds separate from the individually paid premiums that could be used for abortion coverage. If the Dem leadership determines that the latter option is enough to win over some of the 40 Democrats with concerns over the bill’s abortion provisions, that language will likely be included in the underlying bill that comes to the floor by the Rules Committee.

On this issue of floor amendments, it looks like the only one that will be voted on is the Republican substitute. Given its dismal score from the CBO, that likely will not attract any Democratic support and is not really a viable amendment. Rep. Anthony Weiner [D, NY-9] has dropped his demand that the full House votes on his amendment to replace the bill with a single-payer system that is supported by progressives. The House leadership has called Weiner’s choice to withdraw his amendment “enormously helpful in passing the health care reform package.”

The full text of the bill as it currently stands can be read here on OpenCongress.

The Debate

The House’s floor debate is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET. The first matter of business will be a vote on the “rule” that will govern the debate. This might contain some new changes to the bill (we’ll report as soon as we know). If it doesn’t change the bill’s abortion provisions, pro-life Democrats are threatening to vote against the “rule,” potentially ending the floor debate and sending the bill back to the Rules Committee. However, with the two new House Democrats that are being sworn in today, the 40 Dems that have problems with the bill’s abortion provisions might no longer have the numbers to bring down the rule.

Once the rule is approved, the Democratic leadership is planning on genera floor debate, including a vote on the Republican substitute, to last until 6 or 7 p.m., at which time the House will take a final vote.

But, as Hoyer admitted this morning, this timeline is likely to be extended. Republicans are readying some dilatory tactics and the debate could be extended into Sunday or even next week.

Before the debate is over the Republicans will have one last chance to kill the bill through a motion to recommit. A motion to recommit is basically a procedural vote that allows the minority party one final chance before final passage to request that the bill is amended. The language of motions to recommit are generally not released to the public beforehand and they are only given a few minutes of floor debate.

If the Republicans put language regarding abortion coverage in their motion to recommit, they could potentially pick off enough Democrats to pass the motion. But any abortion language beyond what the Democratic leadership decides to include through the Rules Committee would likely have the effect of a “poison pill” and cause the overall bill to fail once a final vote is taken.

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