November 15, 2013
Nancy Pelosi (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Nancy Pelosi (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

So the House of Representatives just passed GOP Rep. Fred Upton’s bill to fix Obamacare by gutting it, with 39 Democrats voting for the measure. That will lead to many stories claiming “dozens” of Dems defected, which is true. More Democrats voted for the Upton bill today than I would have liked.

However, the outcome actually appears to be somewhat better than Dem leaders expected. A senior House Democratic leadership aide tells me that leaders had calculated earlier today that as many as 70 House Dems could defect. That is supported by reports from last night claiming leaders feared “over 100″ Dems could support the measure.

The 39 votes is being widely portrayed as a big defection. But aides note that a similar number of House Dems — 35 — voted back in July with Republicans to delay the employer mandate. So today’s high stakes vote — right in the midst of a crush of bad Obamacare press that could not possibly have been worse — only got a few more Dems than a less consequential vote taken well before the serious problems started. Still, as noted above, the total of 39 Dems is significant, more than I would have liked to see.

Today, Dem leaders faced a problem: Because House Dems might think anything that passes the House would be DOA in the Senate, there would be no harm in a vote for the Upton bill. But leaders hoped to keep the vote down well below 50, and hopefully below 40, which would still be too high but might ensure less pressure on Senate Democratic leaders to hold a vote on something else, like the Mary Landrieu fix, the senior aide tells me.

“They know Reid is going to block it, so it’s a free vote for them,” the aide says of House Dems. “But if there were too many it would have put more pressure on Reid to act.”

And, indeed, with the total of defections among House Dems at 39, it’s still seems unlikely, at least as of now, that there will be a vote on any legislative fix in the Senate.

For the time being, this puts us back where we’ve always been. We’re probably not getting any legislative fix from Congress, which means the only fix we’re likely going to get is the administrative one Obama has put forth. And even that may not do much, if insurers don’t go along. It is certainly possible more problems will arise, and that another epic Democratic meltdown could unfold. The larger story remains that Dems are in the midst of an extended gut-check moment, in which they will hopefully remember that this isn’t about Obama; it’s about the policy upon which they’ve staked so much.

But in the last couple of days Dem leaders — and Obama — have managed to contain, at least to some degree, the full scale rebellion that seemed to be looming. And now we’re again stuck waiting for the Obama administration to fix the website, and waiting to see whether the policy works over the long haul, which is what really matters.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.