Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Geography of the House Democrats' Health Care Vote II: Is the Stupak Amendment Crucial For Passage???

I've modified the map I created for the last posting to include the Stupak Amendment. There are now four categories, each color coded, that members can fall into: 1) Those who voted for the final bill and against the Stupak Amendment (light green). 178 members fall into this group. 2) Those who voted for the final bill and for the Stupak Amendment (dark green). 41 members are in this group. 3) Those who voted against the final bill and against the Stupak Amendment (dark red). This group includes 16 members. 4) Those who voted against the final bill and for the Stupak Amendment (light red). This is 23 members. For a spreadsheet of the vote and categorization of the members, see here.

Which category each member fell into says a bit about how the leadership probably approached the decision about when to schedule the vote on the bill and how they viewed its likelihood of passage. It also sets up an interesting calculus for the leadership to solve as the bill moves to the Senate and then conference. Those members in the "Pro-Health Care, Anti-Stupak" camp would be those, going into the vote, with the strongest pro-reform position. In other words, this is the "Pelosi/Hoyer House Leadership" position. Those in the "Pro-Health Care, Pro-Stupak" position would seem to be made up, largely, of members more on the fence about reform and, given their pro-life position, needed the inclusion of the Stupak Amendment to push them off the fence and onto the side of reform. The "Anti-Health Care, Anti-Stupak" members are an interesting bunch. This cadre shows that issues besides abortion entered into their hesitancy to support the bill. These members appear more on the blue-doggish side of things (Herseth-Sandlin, Baird, Boyd). The "Anti-Health Care, Anti-Stupak" members also seem to include a number of the blue dog regulars (Shuler, Tanner, Taylor), but obviously have anti-abortion positions in addition to their fiscal concerns about the bill.

As the bill moves to the Senate, conference, and then back to the House, I wouldn't assume that these categories will remain constant. Obviously, how the next stages deal with the inclusion of the Stupak Amendment will be an important factor in how the pro-Reform coalition forms. I wonder about some of the members who voted for Stupak and whether they would oppose the bill should it come back to the House with the Amendment stripped out. Specifically, members like David Obey, John Murtha, and Jim Oberstar are long standing members of the caucus. Two are committee chairmen (Obey and Oberstar) and the other is an Appropriations Committee subcommittee chair (Murtha). These members have a strong incentive to keep the House in Democratic hands and the degree to which health care's failure could cripple the party and bring about defeat, they would seem willing to do everything to ensure its passage. Obey and Oberstar also have deeply held progressive beliefs that would make it very hard for them to vote no for a bill stripped of Stupak.

You also need to wonder about some of the members who voted no initially. What seems to have been driving the leadership in the vote counting and whipping process was the goal of 1) passing the bill with 2) The smallest majority possible. At this stage of the process all that mattered for House Democrats was getting the bill on to the Senate. The size of their majority was irrelevant as long as the bill proceeded to the next step of the process. Thus, there was no incentive to have members cast a hard vote, potentially angering their constituency, if they didn't have to. While many might point to the 220 votes Pelosi mustered (including the single Republican yes vote) and argue that the bill is in trouble, I'd argue that Pelosi, Hoyer, et al achieved exactly what they wanted. Thus, the next time the House votes, this time for final passage, one might assume that the leadership has, in case they need them, some of these initial no votes ready to vote yes should some of those that originally voted yes defect the second time around.

At this stage, it doesn't seem as if the inclusion or exclusion of the Stupak Amendment would have much predictive power on the votes of these "no but could be yes" members, on its own. There doesn't appear to be much of a pattern to the no votes (pro and anti Stupak). What could happen, though, is a situation in which the bill returns to the House, stripped of Stupak, setting off a revolt among some of the hard core pro-Stupak members. If this happens, and several of these members announce a willingness to vote no, Pelosi and Hoyer need to approach these members who originally voted no and try to get them to switch. In this sense, the "Anti Health Care, Anti Stupak" group would be the logical place to start. Thus, if we were to identify a group of House Democrats as potentially being the least likely to support the final bill, regardless of what is included in it, those whose districts are colored light red would be my pick.

In addition to the interesting geographical dimensions to this issue, what this discussion also illustrates extremely well is how intricate the leadership and vote whipping process is. A leadership team that isn't able to function well and can neither read nor get commitments from its members is going to fail miserably, especially on an issue as controversial as health care. When you are managing individual politicians, given their own interests, fears, foibles, and agendas, a tremendous amount of skill is required.


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