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Why the Democrats Can’t Pass A Bill Without a Public Option, By the Numbers

Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman are running around saying that they’ll kill any bill that has a public option. Quite predictably. And everyone in the media (and on the Hill) are kowtowing to them, saying that this means that it will have to go. Their calculus is that progressives in the House will want health care passed so badly that they’ll eventually cave and vote for a bill that doesn’t have one.

Now, maybe this is true. But as someone who counts votes like other people count sheep, I’m not getting it. Someone is going to have to explain the math.

There are 258 Democrats in the House now that Garamendi and Owens have been sworn in.  There are 177 Repubilicans.  Everyone voted on the bill, which means 218 is a majority.  If all the Republicans vote against a bill, that means they can only lose 40 Democratic votes and still pass a bill (258 – 40 = 218).

According to Jim Clyburn’s own count, the Stupak amendment only bought them 6-10 votes. And in the end, there were 39 Democratic “nay” votes on the final bill.  Because Republican Joseph Gao voted “aye” that meant they could allow 41 Democratic “nay” votes and still pass it.

So even after they threw the biggest piece of red meat culture-war social conservatism issue at the ConservaDems, and abortion means a heck of a lot more to the conservative base than something as new as a “public option.”  It’s been deeply ingrained for decades.  And they still only picked up 10 votes maximum. This is after PhRMA has spread so much money around the Democratic caucus that they’ve lured just about everybody over to the “pro” side they possibly could. If they tossed the public option out, MAYBE — just MAYBE — they could pick up another 10 votes. And that’s really, really optimistic.

But let’s say they could. Who do they lose when they do that?  Do those more than they gain?

I think they do.  Because progressives only have to muster 1 more vote against the bill for every one that leadership picks up when they lose the public option.  Can the progressives hold 11 votes against any bill without a public option?  Even if Gao stays in the “aye” column, I think they can do it.  In reality, I think they only need to muster more like 5-8, because the GOP is going to go straight at everyone who is vulnerable between now and then, and will probably be able to recruit strong challengers to many in the post November election period, which is when that kind of thing starts to happen. Which should scare some of the freshmen, and probably some sophomores too, into the “no on anything” column.

So the absolute best, most optimistic outlook for passing a bill in the House without a public option means that 13 or fewer progressive votes could stop it.  Well, here’s 16:

Raul Grijalva Rep. Raul Grijalva “Our insistence on this is based on real public policy — we don’t want a trigger, we don’t want a public plan that has no network of providers…I think the President respects the fact that these are principled issues we’re taking. This is not petty. I’m not saying “no” just to be spiteful, or petulant. This is a principled vote. It’s a principled decision.”
Ellison Rep. Keith Ellison “I will not vote for any healthcare that does not include a public option. I will not do it, that’s a guaranteed no vote and I will not be dissuaded from that.”
Waters Rep. Maxine Waters “For the majority, I think, of our members a public option is a compromise — we wanted single payer as you know, and we backed off because they said that was going to be impossible to do. Again they brought up the more conservative elements, etc. etc., and so we will not support any bill that does not have a public option in it.”
C001061 Rep. Emanuel Cleaver “I have said from the very beginning and I will say even to the end that I will not support any health care program that does not have a very strong public option. If there is no way to guarantee from the very beginning that every American will have access to adequate insurance coverage, that I will not support it.”
D000399 Rep. Lloyd Doggett “We do need reform of health care so desperately. And I’ve joined in the communications to our leadership,and I’ve said withing the Ways & Means Democratic Caucus — no public plan, no vote for me.”
F000116 Rep. Bob Filner “We need to do this now. People say we are rushing it, we have been waiting since 1948 to take health care reform seriously. We cant afford much longer at this rate….So lets get the public health option, and I am not going to vote for any healthcare reform plan that does not include such a public option….We need the guarantee of accessibility on day one. Any trigger as far as I am concerned, kills my support for the bill.”
N000002 Rep. Jerrold Nadler “In May, I began whipping my colleagues on the absolute necessity for a public option and convinced many of them to commit, as I have done, to voting against any health reform bill that excludes the public option. This commitment will give us leverage to oppose the insurance company lobbyists, and force inclusion of a robust public option in the developing health insurance reform plan.”
ME01 Rep. Chellie Pingree “I’m not going to vote for any House bill that doesn’t include a robust public option without any triggers or coops–that’s a must-have for me.”
H001040 Rep. Phil Hare The purpose of having a public option — and that’s why I can’t vote for any bill that doesn’t have one — is that without the public option, people don’t have any place else to go, except for the insurance companies.”
F000339 Rep. Barney Frank “I am a strong supporter of single payer, and I do reluctantly accept a full public option as the best we can do. So I am strongly committed to a public option and I will not vote for a bill that does not include a nationwide, genuine public plan … I am not talking now about a trigger, which I greatly oppose.”
M000087 Rep. Carolyn Maloney “I have decided I will not vote for a health care bill in the House that doesn’t include a real public option and I Pledge to uphold the public option principles agreed upon by the Progressive Caucus.”
W000738 Rep. Lynn Woolsey “Oh I will vote against anything that does not include … and it’s got to be real. I mean, you can call it anything you want … I believe there are enough of us, among the 120 in the tri-caucus and the progressive caucus, that can stop any votes…. Any health care reform that does not include a strong, robust public option for all Americans will not be health care reform.”
C001067 Rep. Yvette Clarke Rep. Clarke: There is no health care reform without a robust public option.

Eve Gittelson: You are saying you will not vote for any bill through conference that does not have a public option.

Rep. Clarke: That is correct.

C000714 Rep. John Conyers “The centerpiece of this reform is a robust Medicare-like public health insurance plan tied to the Medicare provider system. Like many of my colleagues in both the House and Senate, I will oppose any health care reform bill that lacks such a plan. I will also oppose any legislation that seeks to replace a robust public health insurance option with health care cooperatives or which ties the availability of the public option to a trigger mechanism.”
robert-wexler Rep. Robert Wexler Committed to vote against any bill that does not conform to the principles of the CPC, which means that it must contain a public plan that has no triggers and is available nationwide to everyone, and that it must also have the ability to negotiate for rates in order to keep costs down.
donna_edwards Rep. Donna Edwards “Taking the FDL pledge… the pledge is consistent with what I’ve outlined as important components for any reform to be called reform. Signing up for the pledge now. But, progressives need to hold tight on this one. We cannot allow the language of robust reform to be used to describe something that is not.”

I actually have others members on record saying they’ll vote against any bill that doesn’t have a public option which I haven’t released yet.

Now I know where the strengths and weaknesses of the list are, and they do too.  But you’re talking about a group of people who have been screwed over, disrespected, spat upon, forced to vote against everything they believe in over and over and over again “for the good of the team,” who have had to kneel down and get stomped on so their Blue Dog caucus breatheren can collect all the campaign cash and the district pork and the “wins” that will get them re-elected. On the war supplemental.  On Waxman-Markey.  And now on choice.

I imagine that list of progressives who will vote “no” on any bill that doesn’t have a public option is somewhat larger and stronger after the Stupak debacle, because progressives who hail from strong Democratic districts once again look weak, ineffectual and unprincipled to their constituents after they voted for a bill that included an amendment that is certainly the worst attack on choice since before Roe v. Wade became law.  They’re ready to take a stand.

So unless someone tells me how Maxine Waters, Jerry Nadler, Raul Grijalva, Lynn Woolsey, John Conyers and Keith Ellison suddenly abandon everything they’ve worked for and take one for the team just so they can be led around by the nose by J0e Leiberman to compensate for Harry Reid’s weak leadership and Rahm Emanuel’s decision to drive health care reform into a ditch, I’m feeling pretty good about the fact that no health care bill will pass without a public option.  Period.  Because the list of “no” votes in the House is already packed with Democratic members who think they’ll lose their seats if they vote for any health care bill.  That list is pretty much uncrackable — and it only gets bigger and stronger from hereon out.

The White House calculates that the “give” is on the House side, or they would have been putting pressure on the Senate “centrists” all along. They’re not.  Rahm Emanuel’s over-confidence that he can continually roll progressives in the House created the situation where Pelosi couldn’t pass a bill without one in the first place.  He’s gone to that well too many times. I don’t think he gets another trip.

And until the White House and the Senate face that reality, we’re looking at no health care legislation passing in this Congress.  Until Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson start facing consequences for handing the party a huge legislative defeat for their recalcitrance, we’re looking at a repeat of the Clinton failure of 1994.  And that, as many will recall, handed the House Democrats a 54 seat swing to the GOP.  But it won’t be just a House phenomenon this time.  Lieberman and Nelson wouldn’t suffer the consequences of their own actions in 2012 because they’re not up for reelection, but Harry Reid and Blanche Lincoln certainly would.  Probably Evan Bayh, too.

Because Democrats in the House do not have the votes to pass a bill without a public option — no opt-outs, no trigger, no co-ops.  And that’s the reality of the situation.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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