With Dems Riding Momentum, Landmark Health Vote Approaches

On a typical Saturday in spring, members of the House of Representatives would be home in their districts, spending elusive time with families, and meeting with aides to prepare for their summer reelection races.

Not today.

Instead, the House is readying for the biggest vote of Barack Obama's presidency--one that will have enormous consequences for the president and the party, the outcome of which is yet uncertain.

The House will vote Sunday afternoon on the health care reforms produced by Democratic leaders after the bill has been online for 72 hours at the Rules Committee's website, with Democrats riding a wave of momentum as a cascade of undecided members have pledged "yes" votes over the past week.

President Obama, who has met with members individually and in small groups over the past few weeks, is preparing to meet with the entire House Democratic caucus at the Capitol Visitors Center at 2:45 p.m. to make his final (Democrats hope) push for reform. The president has told wavering Democrats that this bill needs to pass not just for the sake of expanded health care coverage and the deficit reductions he has touted, but for the political success of the party, individual members, and his own tenure as president.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, will attend the meeting to allay fears and assure quick action on the House's package of amendments, to be passed by the Senate as "fixes" for the bill.

Reid will "reiterate his intention, and that of his caucus, to use reconciliation to get a bill done as quickly as possible next week," according to spokesman Jim Manley.

Sunday's vote stands to impact Obama and Democrats more than any other in the past year. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs predicted last Sunday that health reform would be law within a week; the president's own involvement in this vote has been unparalleled by any other vote on health care--or any other bill, for that matter--in his time in office thus far. The Senate's health care vote was important, but the president's own involvement and the pressure to move forward has only grown since that Christmas Eve vote.

So what can we expect from the vote on Sunday?

Democrats are expected to use the "deem and pass" procedure that has caused a stir over the past week, allowing a vote on the Senate bill and the House's own package of reconciliation fixes all at once. There will likely be myriad Republican statements criticizing this maneuver.

It is still unclear whether the bill will pass, though Democrats have gained momentum in the last few days. House Majority Whip James Clyburn--who said last weekend that Democrats did not, at the time, have the needed 216 votest--has said that he does expect the bill to pass tomorrow. CNN has cited Democratic sources placing Democratic "yes" votes over 200.

Over the past week, a wave of undecided Democrats have pledged "yes" votes, the latest being New York's Bill Owens, who announced his support today. Rep. Dennis Kucinich pledged support in a televised press conference this past week; Hotline OnCall counts 13 on-the-fence Democrats who have recently announced they will vote "yes" (see OnCall's whip count here).

So Democrats are riding a wave of momentum as they head toward this vote, and the undecideds seem to be turning in Obama's favor. If it passes, count on a jubilant post-vote press conference with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer praising their caucus for doing the right thing--and calling on Reid to get the House amendments passed through reconciliation as soon as possible.

If it fails, expect Democrats to downplay the significance and try again, after more intense lobbying of their members and perhaps some changes to the package of reconciliation fixes. And expect much exasperation in Democratic circles if the weekend ends without a victory for Obama's signature initiative.