Democrats' 'big tent' faces challenges from conservative members
Newly elected moderate and conservative Democrats helped the party build a ‘big tent’ majority in the House. But those very same members – worrying about 2010 elections – are threatening Democrats' majority on major votes.
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“It was punitive toward small businesses, and it paid for reform by raising taxes rather than by squeezing the inefficiencies out of and modernizing our healthcare system,” said Rep. Jason Altmire (D) of Pennsylvania in a postvote statement. “Until we rein in skyrocketing healthcare costs, we will simply be perpetuating an inefficient system that is unsustainable over time.”Skip to next paragraph
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Two days after the healthcare vote, the liberal activist group MoveOn.org Political Action launched television ads targeting seven lawmakers who voted against healthcare – six of them Democrats.
Freshmen facing the toughest reelection bids weren’t pressured to fall on their swords on this vote.
“After carefully reviewing this legislation and hearing from thousands of Coloradans across my district, I could not support this bill,” said freshman Rep. Betsy Markey (D) of Colorado in a statement. Ms. Markey, who faces a tough reelection race in 2010, is the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1973. This “majority maker” got a pass on this vote – and a hug from Speaker Pelosi on the floor.
Limits on abortion
Among the toughest negotiations was a call from social conservatives in the Democratic caucus to strengthen restrictions on funding abortion services in healthcare reform.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan, who cosponsored the amendment with Rep. Joe Pitts (R) of Pennsylvania, claimed 40 Democrats willing to vote down the bill over this issue. At the 11th hour, Pelosi agreed to allow a floor vote on the amendment, which passed 240-194. Sixty-four Democrats joined all Republicans in adding these restrictions to the House bill, including 35 red-district Democrats. In all, 56 percent of Democrats who opposed healthcare reform also voted in favor of this amendment.
After the vote, abortion rights Democrats announced that they have more than 40 votes against the final version of the bill, if the Senate fails to remove this provision in conference.
Most of the Democrats who opposed healthcare reform also voted against the majority on climate-change legislation, which narrowly passed the House, 219 to 212, on June 26. As with previous energy bills, fault lines in the vote reflect regional interests – notably, whether the region depends on coal for electricity – rather than strict party identification. But the more conservative ideology of the “majority makers” did play a role.