End Game: How Health Care Passes, or Doesn't

A handful of fence-sitting Dems decides it all

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Over a year after President Obama and Democrats began the push for health care reform, the legislation could at last come to a final vote this weekend. Last Sunday, White House Press Secretary predicted the bill would be "law of the land" by Sunday. And, sure enough, the timing of Thursday's CBO report (which spelled good news for Democrats) set things in motion for a final vote Sunday. Here's how it could all come together or fall apart at the last moments.

  • For Some Dems, Success vs. Survival  There are a number of Democrats who want health care to pass but worry that voting "yes" will hurt their reelection prospects. The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny asks, "For a group of particularly jittery Democrats, the better question may be this: Who will be allowed to slip away?" Some Dems are looking to the party leadership for permission to vote no.
  • Less Than Five Undecideds Remain  NBC News' Domenico Montanaro reports, "We’re told that the White House and House Dem leaders are fewer than five votes away from 216." He notes the the count includes the handful of fence-sitters who'd all recently switched to yes votes. "On-the-fence House Democrats like retiring Rep. Brian Baird, who voted no on last year’s House bill, have been saying they need to see the CBO score -- and a good score."
  • Lobbyists Say Otherwise  The National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru presents a curiously unsourced figure: "A Whip Count Going Around K Street has fewer than 30 undecideds, with Pelosi needing two-thirds. Don’t believe Democrats who say they’re within five."
  • All Eyes on Handful of Holdouts  The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza whistles, "the spotlight is growing brighter (and hotter) for the Democratic members who remain on the fence about the bill." He looks at all 64, crunching the numbers. Only 7 voted "no" on the original bill. 18 of them represent districts that voted for John McCain in 2008. And much more.
  • Why the Holdouts Will Crumble  The New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues, "I have always thought that the key is to get within four or five votes. Once you're there, you're very likely to win. Why? Because then the White House and Democratic leaders can concentrate all their attention on a few holdouts. And they can make an irresistible argument: If you don't vote for this bill, you will be responsible for the political and moral disaster that ensues. I just don't think anybody is willing to be the person who kills health care reform."
  • ...Or How It Could All Come Apart  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen notes that Democrats don't exactly have a reputation for holding strong. He says of their success so far, "This is a needle that's almost impossible to thread. And yet, that's exactly what the White House and congressional leaders have done. It's no small feat. But it might yet fail anyway, in part because some Dems prefer cowardice to success."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.