Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 1, 2010

218, 217, 216.... It's a familiar benchmark: with 435 members of the House, legislation needs a minimum of 218 votes. But a vote on health care reform will probably end up needing a minimum of 216 votes. It's worth taking a moment to explain why.

The issue is vacancies. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) retired from Congress last year, bringing the total number of House members to 434. Last month, John Murtha (D-Pa.) passed away, bringing the total to 433.

Yesterday, there was another departure...

Hawaii has an opening in the U.S. House of Representatives after now-former Rep. Neil Abercrombie [D] resigned yesterday to run for governor.

...with yet another on the way.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) said Monday morning he will resign from Congress to "devote my full energies to the campaign for governor."

Deal is one of seven Republicans seeking the GOP nomination for governor. He will resign from the U.S. House on March 8.

So, next week, the House will have 431 members, which means the threshold for a majority will be 216 votes.

As this relates to health care, it makes passage ever-so-slightly easier. The legislation passed in November with 220 votes, and when it comes time to take the next step, Speaker Pelosi will need four fewer votes to succeed.

The bad news is Pelosi and the Democratic leadership have lost four reform supporters (Wexler, Murtha, Abercrombie, and Joseph Cao, who has said he's changed this mind). The good news is, the margin for error is a little more favorable with the lower "magic number" for success.

To reemphasize, this won't be easy. Several Dems who voted for the bill in November -- it's hard to say exactly how many -- did so because it included the Stupak amendment. If/when the House takes up the Senate bill, an unknown number of these Dems will likely withhold support, meaning Pelosi will have to make up ground elsewhere. Getting Blue Dogs to switch from "nay" to "aye" is no easy task.

But Deal's departure gives the Democrats a bit of a hand, and given the challenge, every little bit helps.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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This HCR bill should be a no brainer for Blue Dogs. It's the largest deficit reduction bill ever. If they're the fiscal conservatives they claim, then they should vote "aye."

Posted by: Chris on March 1, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Remember the bad old days, when R's held votes open until all the arms had been twisted, all the pork had been distributed?

Remember the good old days, when LBJ threw his arm around recalcitrant congressmen and said ' vote the right way- you sumbitch'?

It's why it's called a WHIP count. . .

Posted by: DAY on March 1, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'm in Deal's district, the mountains of NE. GA, and this is not an obvious Democratic pickup. The culture war stuff (Gay marriage, DADT, abortion, school prayer) were Deal staples, and Obama only got something like 27%.
I'm convinced a smart local Dem who knows how to speak the language could win it, but don't look for a progressive.

Posted by: MR Bill on March 1, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

#1. The Stupak amendment may be UNCONSTITITIONAL because the Roman Catholic church through Stupak is imposing their religion on Americans.(Stuopak is imposing his religion on Americans as well) Perhaps Representatives are not aware of the 14th amendment.It is too bad Stupak won't use his energy for support of gun control. It would be more relevant.

#2-Americans are suffering because of Congress' ditheriing. Why not change the Medicare legislation fine print, extend M'care to All Americans now ( up or down vote) and let Congress continue it's fight for earmarks and pork on it's own time.

Posted by: MLJohnston on March 1, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Is 216 the threshold even if all members are not present for the vote? Let's say ten members are absent ... why isn't the threshold 211 of 421 instead of 216 of 421?

Posted by: KTinOhio on March 1, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Well, they have no choice. Not passing this bill would be a catastrophic fail for the Dems. I don't see how any of them think they'll survive by running away from their signature issue, and the one that Obama has staked much of his own prestige on.

Put another way, I know that individual congressmen will be reelected regardless, but the Dems would lose all sense of momentum and even possibly their majority. The energy would move to the right, which will have tasted major blood.

How can any Dem possibly think they can punt here?

Posted by: brooklyn on March 1, 2010 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Why no one asks Stupak and his cohorts how they square their ultra sensitivity to the life of the unborn with their total disregard to the people whose life is going to end for lack of health care insurance???

The media people are so mediocre nowdays.

Let me know if you ever see such a question being asked, Pls.

Posted by: Yoni on March 1, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

I read that Pelosi says the votes will be there for the President. I suspect Stupak is losing members of his little group as the reality of not passing the bill dawns.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 1, 2010 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Stupak should be retroactively aborted, what a waste of stem cells that turned out to be! I can't believe that even now in the 21st (not the 14th there Bart!) there are fabulous morons like Bart Stupid injecting religiously tainted fecal matter into federal legislation. Jesus doesn't work here anymore, neither should Bart Stupid.

Posted by: trollopoly on March 1, 2010 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Personally I think it benefits the Democrats to pass HCR with a bare minimum number of Dem-only votes.

This "proves" two thing:

1. Health care is hard, it barely passed, so don't complain about how little it actually does.

2. It maintains the talking point that HCR passed without any Republican votes. This is a stark line, something easy to explain, and something even admitted to by Republicans. Once it passes, this boast by the Republicans will be toxic.

Also the bare minimum votes preserves as many dems who don't want to or can't explain a yes vote. My guess is that the dems will get one more vote to cover for Cao, or none extra to pass with 216.

Posted by: tomj on March 1, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

"This is a stark line, something easy to explain, and something even admitted to by Republicans"

No. As shown w/ the Bunning episode, there is an increasingly effective response about GOP gridlock.

Some other commenters here worry about the Blue Dogs, but forget that Evan Bayh of all people was pushing for the Blue Dogs to vote for this as a whole. He understood that even though individual districts *may* be somewhat hostile to reform in the short term, the Blue Dogs will *definitely* be first to go in 2010 if there's a wave election caused by Dems failing to act.

Posted by: Chris__ on March 1, 2010 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK
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