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Democrats seem ready to trade House seats for healthcare reform

Democrats seem increasingly determined to go it alone on healthcare reform. But that means the House must find more 'yes' votes - even if it costs some representatives their seats.

By Staff writer / March 2, 2010

US Democratic party lawmakers (left-right) House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confer during a bipartisan healthcare reform summit with President Barack Obama and lawmakers at Blair House in Washington, February 25.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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With Monday’s resignation of Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) of Hawaii to run for governor, Democrats are down to a 76-seat majority to move a historic healthcare reform bill through the House.

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On paper, it’s a formidable edge, especially with House rules that give strong powers to the majority. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi struggled to win passage of a House-drafted bill last November, winning by just two votes.

The next vote – to muster a majority for a bill largely shaped in the Senate – could be even tougher, especially coming just months away from midterm elections expected to be punishing to Democrats. (For Monitor analysis of Democrats' current prospects in November, click here and here.)

In Pictures: Who are the Democratic House members retiring in 2010?

Democratic leaders see the healthcare vote as a defining moment, on a par with the passage of Medicare in 1965.

“They are prepared to do this even if it means losing control of the House,” says G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “That means they are prepared to go to anyone and everyone and promise them anything they want, including jobs after, if they get defeated, in order to get to 216 votes.”

On Wednesday, the president is expected to outline a plan to move forward on healthcare reform, including a controversial procedure to pass a bill by majority vote in the Senate.

For more than a year, the tipping point for healthcare reform has been the Senate. But with reconciliation, the heavy lifting shifts to the House, where Pelosi faces challenges consolidating support on both ends of her caucus. (For Monitor coverage of reconciliation, click here and here.)

Conservative Democrats are wary of “jamming” health care through the Congress using a process Republicans call a trick. (GOP congressional leaders used reconciliation to pass Bush tax cuts when they held the majority in 2001 and 2003.) Most of the Democrats voting no on last year represent districts that supported GOP nominee John McCain in the 2008 election.

In Pictures: Who are the Democratic House members retiring in 2010?

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