To pass healthcare reform, Democrats look for House 'swing votes'

The race for House votes on the healthcare reform bill is shaping up to be too close to call. Much of the lobbying this week will focus on a small group of House Democrats seen as 'swing votes.'

Jim Young/Reuters
President Obama spoke about healthcare reform Monday in Strongsville, Ohio.

It’s crunch time for a small group of House Democrats whose votes will decide the fate of President Obama’s healthcare reform legislation.

House leaders say they’ll have a make-or-break roll call on healthcare by the end of the week. Does Speaker Nancy Pelosi have the support to pass Mr. Obama’s top domestic priority?

Yes. No. Maybe. Not yet. Soon. Or never. The one prediction that is sure to come true is this: It’s going to be close.

Obama on Monday appealed to wavering House members to set aside their fears and do what he said is the right thing for the country.

“We need courage,” he said in an appearance in Strongsville, Ohio.

On Sunday, Rep. James Clyburn (D) of South Carolina, the House majority whip, said Democrats did not yet have the 216 votes necessary to pass the bill, but that he expects to have them soon.

There is some evidence that White House and Democratic leadership lobbying is making progress. Rep. James Oberstar (D) of Minnesota, who voted against an earlier version of the bill because its language regarding federal funding of abortion was not strict enough, said he was prepared to vote “yes” this time, despite the fact that the language has not been changed.

But Republican leaders point out that Democrats have struggled to get to 216 despite their large House majority, and that for them, this is not a good sign.

If Speaker Pelosi “had 216 votes, this would be long gone,” said Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio, the House minority leader, Sunday on CNN.

The upcoming House vote will be to pass or reject the Senate’s version of healthcare reform. If it is approved, legislation is virtually certain to be signed into law by Obama.

But many House members don’t like the Senate bill. Thus the House will also consider, in a separate bill, a package of “fixes” to the Senate legislation.

The Senate will then consider the “fixes” legislation under special rules that allow budget-related measures to pass by a simple majority.

Much of the healthcare lobbying this week will focus on a small group of House Democrats considered to be swing votes on the issue.

Some, such as Representative Oberstar, voted against an earlier version of healthcare reform passed by the House. Some are Democrats who represent relatively conservative districts.

A number of House Democrats are nervous that a vote for the healthcare bill might result in their losing their jobs in the fall election.

One new poll indicates they may have reason to be nervous. Fully 60 percent of voters in swing districts key to the healthcare vote say they want Congress to start a new healthcare effort from scratch or stop working on a bill altogether this year, according to the survey, which was sponsored by Independent Women’s Voice.

“Voters really want Congress to hit the reset button,” said Kellyanne Conway, a pollster who conducted the survey, in a conference call with reporters.

Independent Women’s’ Voice describes itself as a nonpartisan group dedicated to promoting limited government. It opposes current healthcare legislation.

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