Post Politics: Repercussions from votes on House health-care bill

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Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 9, 2009; 11:00 AM

The Post's Perry Bacon Jr. was online Nov. 9 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the House vote on the health-care bill and more.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. Exciting weekend in politics. I saw there for the entire health care vote day on Saturday, which was very interesting. And lots to analyze still in terms of last week's elections. And Pawlenty was in Iowa getting an early start for 2012 I suppose.

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Arlington, Va.: Have the Republicans found the magic bullet that could sink the health-care bill: abortion? Is this bill doomed?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think the health care bill is doomed and is very likely to pass. And the abortion amendment, which so many Democrats hated, is a good illustration of their determination to pass something. That said, I think this abortion issue will be a major divide, particularly know that the abortion cause is not simply a GOP one, but Catholic bishops are insisting upon it.

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Manhattan, Kan.: Hi Perry--I was wondering whether the House Democratic leadership ever discussed scheduling a vote on the just-released Republican health-care plan before the vote on their own plan.

I thought (hoped) they might do this, not as a matter of fairness, but to embarrass the House Republicans for presenting a plan that did not end the practice of allowing insurance companies to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions and to cancel the policies of those who become ill.

If the shoe had been on the other foot, I bet the GOP leadership would have made sure that an unacceptable Democratic plan had received an up-or-down vote.

Perry Bacon Jr.: There was a vote on the GOP plan before the final vote. All but one Republican (interestingly, Tim Johnson, a moderate from Illinois, Cao voted for the GOP health care plan too) the vote was 176 to 258. The Republicans did not seem embarrassed by the plan, although some of the moderates thought it should do more. It would ensure a much smaller number of Americans (something like 3 million according the CBO) and doesn't have policies that reform insurance company behavior that poll well. It took the GOP a long time to come with that plan, which suggests to me the party may not know what it's for as opposed to what it's against.

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Fairfax, Virginia: Republican Representative Anh "Joeseph" Cao of Louisiana - an American Profile in Courage. He defied his Party's leadership and the insurance lobby and voted in favor of the House health care bill because he said he listened to countless stories of residents of Orleans and Jefferson Parish about the need for expanded health care for seniors and children.

In my opinion our country wouldn't be in half the mess its in if our elected representatives listened to their constituents and exercised independence of thought such as Mr. Cao showed. I am a liberal Democrat but if I lived in New Orleans would cast my vote for Mr. Cao.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I will quibble with your question slightly suggest showing independent thought is often the opposite of listening to your constituents. Did Cao cast a courageous vote? I don't really think so. His district is very pro-Obama, in some ways he had to cast this vote. He was the only Republican, yes, but he is also the most likely Republican to be defeated next year. And I doubt lots of Democrats in his district will back him once they are reminded of his litany of votes with the GOP.

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Boston: Did Pelosi just hand anti-abortion activists an expanded front to limit the ability of American women to exercise a Constitutional right to choose by saying not only can't the Federal governmet directly fund abortion procedures but not even indirectly through overall insurance subsidies? Seems like a very slippery slope. Did the original law in the mid-70s banning Federal support for abortion procedures ever get challenged in the Supreme Court? Sure seems like it would be an unconstitutionally imfringement upon a constitutional right just based on the fact that you were poor.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Medicaid has long strictly limited abortion. The Supreme Court has upheld those limits, so in some ways, women who are poor have already had more limited access to abortion. The women's rights groups are outraged by the amendment that passed in the House bill. There argument is that many employers will eventually stop covering their employees and rely on people to use the exchange created in the bill. Under the language passed on Saturday, none of those plans could offer abortion, although women could buy supplemental coverage for abortion is my understanding. I don't know exactly how this would work. I think the Senate may view this issue differently, but I Think the bishops being so active on this issue will make it complicated.

On Pelosi, I think this shows what I have long though about her: she's not some crazy liberal as people seem to think. She's focused on getting the big goals done and will make compromises along the way when she has to.

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GOP Opposition: Seems that, as usual, the GOP lawmakers were insisting on specific changes, got the changes implemented, and then proceeded to vote against the bill en masse. Why do the Admin and leadership in Congress continue working with the GOP when they know that nothing they do to compromise is going to do anything to garner even the slightest level of support?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I would argue the Blue Dog Democrats insisted upon a bunch of changes and then lots of them still voted against the final bill. I think the Republicans didn't get most of their changes in. There's a tax increase in the House bill. Many Republicans have signed a pledge by Americans for Tax Reform not to back tax increases. Unlike the stimulus, not clear to the me the administration is spending much time courting House Republicans. They've done more with the Senate. And in some ways, what the Obama folks did worked. Wasn't Cao on tv more than any GOP congressman yesterday?

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Richmond, Va.: Watching ABC this morning and having them highlight things in the bill, I see that this is far from socialism. It seems to be an attempt at fairness in the insurance market. Can we have an honest debate now or will the tea party corporate warriors still rule the airways?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I guess it depends on the meaning of socialism. The Tea Party people are alive and well and will continue to be a major force in our politics. Not sure if the Senate Republicans will show up at a rally with them like the House guys, but they will be involved.

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Huntsville, Ala.: Curious about Artur Davis' (D-AL) NO vote. I don't consider him a Blue Dog. Was the reason for his vote the fact that he's running for governor next year and there's no way he is elected with a YEA vote on his record?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect yes is the answer to your question. Davis was never the most liberal of Democrats, but like you said, is not a Blue Dog and I think would have been a yes for this but for his campaign in a state where he face a difficult gubernatorial campaign.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do the 39 Dems who voted against the bill actually believe that their vote will discourage Republicans to not campaign against them? If the Dems fail to pass health care, don't these same 39 Dems see that their own "base" will not come out to vote - witness the poor showing of Deeds (who said he would vote against opting into a public option) in Virginia. Now these 39 Dems have given cover to the Dem senators who were on the fence. Perry, when will this madness end?

Perry Bacon Jr.: President Obama, on Saturday, pressed the reluctant House Dems by making two points. 1. One, whether or not you vote for this, the Republicans will attack you. 2. The worst thing for Democrats would be to fail in getting this done. I happen to disagree with this base point, the base in a district in some parts of the South is so small that a member down there has to win lots of McCain voters to get reelected. I happen to think Deeds suffered more from the Obama coalition of voters being more excited about Obama than other Democrats. I don't think his view on the public option is that important.

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Re: Profiles in courage: I have to laugh every time some liberal goes off about the profile in courage. Where were these people when Lieberman was standing up for what he believed in and bucked the party line. They still demonize him to no end. What the people might as well say is, I'm happy he voted for what I believe in, they could care less about independent voters.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, I happen to think most people praise politicians for voting because they agree with the politician's stance. I would argue the votes of courage were Republicans who voted for last year's bailout as it became so unpopular in the GOP, the group of House Democrats in GOP-leaning districts that voted for health care bill like Tom Perriello of Virginia. I would also submit that what Stupak did on abortion, which i"m sure lots of people in this discussion don't agree with, actually took a lot of guts in standing up to his party.

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Rockville, Md.: Perry

In the background of the Saturday vote, did Pelosi, Hoyer et al "let " some Democratic colleagues vote "no" once they knew they had 220 ? Like Davis in Alabama and others ? That technique is sometimes used to give folks "cover" on particular bills in exchange for a key vote in the future. Was that going on here?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Davis a no weeks ago. That said, yes, they let some members vote no once they have the numbers. As I wrote today, the Republicans made sure that Cao voted yes only after the Dems had found the votes on their own to pass it.

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Abortion and the Democratic Party: Stupak may have just cost us 2010 (I have loads of relatives in his district). I like him and his staff, but he just pushed women and progressives into primarying every Dem that voted for that amendment. His selfish infliction of his personal beliefs into the health care debate was a reckless maneuver that really fails to see the forest for the trees. There goes the majority Bart. Bad play. Bad play.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Every member of Congress pushes their personal beliefs on every issue. I think the members who voted for that amendment live in conservative places and will do just fine in a primary.

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South Bend, Ind.: I believe it's a mistake to think the bishops speak for all Catholics. Since the sex-scandal cover-up the bishops have lost a great deal of moral clout with the laity. Their obsession with abortion over all other moral issues makes them look like a mere arm of the Republican party. Many Catholics do not agree with the bishops on this issue.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I"m sure that's true that the bishops don't speak for the Catholics any more than Rick Warren speaks for all evangelicals. I don't know if the bishops will generate a backlash or if they care about such a backlash. They're not really into compromises.

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Pelosi: If she weren't the representative from San Francisco, she never could have been cast as the uber liberal that the right likes to do. But "everyone" knows that San Francisco is the haven for all the hippies and gays, so there's no chance that they would elect a representative that wasn't at least a bright shade of pink, reality be cast aside. She also has some good management skills to hold the fractious caucus together. I think the loss of some of the Blue Dogs might be a good thing for her and the caucus, inasmuch they could be more united.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Pelosi would tell you a really big majority is good for a lot of reasons. In this health care vote, for instance, they lost some progressives, some Blue Dogs, etc, but still won the vote. One thing people forget I think and I don't have the data in from of me, but polling shows the share of liberals in the Democratic vote is smaller than the share of conservatives in the GOP vote. What that means is the Democratic caucus has to be in some ways more moderate than the Republicans are. Yes, a slightly smaller group could be more ideologically consistent. But 52 House Democrats are in the Blue Dogs, a group they join in part to announce to their districts they will stay moderate. 258 minus 52 is 206. In short, the Dems need some Blue Dogs just to be in the majority period.

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New York, NY: The media (even your WaPo Mothership, see link below) keeps beating the false meme that last weeks election results "do not portend good things for Obama and his party next year."

I just don't get that from the actual results, though. Do you, Perry?

Didn't the exit polls reveal that people who voted in last week's state-wide elections generally did not consider them to be referendums on Obama? And what about the Democrats' 2-0 record in last week's Congressional special elections? Are the governors elections in NJ and Virginia really more important litmus tests for Obama than Congressional special elections? I think not. But interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Link: Obama marks win, but challenges mount

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think the results say much about Obama. I think the governors races (which have lots more voters than the congressional races I will note) say that there is anti-incumbent, anti-government, anger out there and real worry about the recession. That is bad for Democrats, they are in the majority in Congress. The results in Virginia in particular suggest some of the people who voted for Obama are going to rush out and vote for any Democrat running. I think the results suggest his party might have some problems next year and that's bad for Obama. And in NJ, it's not clear a president should be able to move numbers in a statewide race. But Obama tried and he failed.

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Bronx, NY : If LBJ were Senate leader, Joe Lieberman would have come in this morning to find his office next to the janitor's in the basement, his parking space would be on the other side of town, and his men's room key wouldn't fit. That would be the first day. What's Reid likely to do?

Perry Bacon Jr.: For whatever reason, the last several Senate leaders (Reid, Dole, Frist) have not been LBJ times. Perhaps their colleagues don't want to be lead, but instead guided. The Dems knew Lieberman would behave this way, this has been his post 2006 pattern. They need his vote and him trashing them for being too partisan would not help either. I think Reid will push Lieberman to vote for cloture on the health care bill and then do as he pleases.

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Tuckerton, NJ: Hi Perry. Would the Republican alternative health care bill have covered as many people as the Democratic bill does? Would the GOP proposal make health insurance cheaper for the average American than the Democrats' bill? And how would the Republicans have paid for their proposal? I watched the debate on C-Span Saturday night and I didn't hear too many specifics.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Here's an NYT piece on the subject.

Budget Monitor Says G.O.P. Bill Leaves Many Uninsured

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN

The Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday that an alternative health care bill put forward by House Republicans would have little impact in extending health benefits to the roughly 30 million uninsured Americans, but would reduce average insurance premium costs for people who have coverage.

The Republican bill, which has no chance of passage, would extend insurance coverage to about 3 million people by 2019, and would leave about 52 million people uninsured, the budget office said, meaning the proportion of non-elderly Americans with coverage would remain about the same as now, at roughly 83 percent.

The budget office has said that the Democrats' health care proposal would extend coverage to 36 million people, meaning that 96 percent of legal residents would have health benefits. The Democrats' bill would cost $1.1 trillion, with the costs more than covered by revenues from new taxes or cuts in government spending, particularly on Medicare.

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Going down swinging: To your point about Cao, isn't it also true that Blue Dog Democrats in conservative leaning states will also be dinged for all the Democratic issue votes they have made separate from health care. Isn't it more courageous to "go down swinging" by voting for something that might make a difference for people instead of "hoping for a walk" from the voters next Fall. It's not likely to happen so why not go down swinging?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think all Democrats will be attacked with the borrows too much, spends too much, taxes too much GOP line no matter how they vote. That said, these Bue Dogs know their districts better than I do and maybe they can draw distinctions between themselves and Obama.

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Fair Lawn, NJ : Is this health care matter the most meticulously picked apart and perused legislative matter in history? Have 'sausages' been made this way for centuries, but this is the first time we've minutely examined the process from start to finish, at least to this excruciating degree?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The Clinton 1993 plan didn't even have a vote, but had lots of this intense attention, although the number of blogs, cable networks, etc. is bigger. I think the press has covered this health care debate like a campaign in a way (and the White House has treated it as such) so I think that's why people so exhausted by the process. Or maybe I"m just speaking for myself.

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Washington, DC: I'd like to throw an oddball question into the mix: in your opinion, what has been Obama's biggest misstep, politically speaking, to date?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I thought the Olympics thing was not a good decision, he should put less stake in GOP votes in the stimulus, maybe avoided setting deadlines on health care. That's in terms of politics, I'm sure people can make broader arguments about policy. But I think he and his team have avoided big mistakes.

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But 52 House Democrats are in the Blue Dogs: But 82 are in the Progressive Caucus!

Perry Bacon Jr.: They don't show any strength. They wimped out of their latest threat, voting only for a bill with a Medicare-like public option. Many of them are very pro-choice and allowed the Stupak amendment to pass. Their threats are so empty Pelosi herself has mocked them.

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Kingston, NY: Hi Perry, It seems that the American bishops played an extraordinarily strong role in this debate. Could there be a backlash? Could other denominations attempt to interfere in policy? At what point do ordinary people see the implications of allowing religion to mix with politics?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Religious people, both from the left and right, have always been involved in policy. I expect Catholic leaders to stay involved in this debate, and I expect other Catholic groups who disagree with the views of the bishops to jump in as well. And protestants on both sides will make their case. Just a note, the bishops also pushed against a provision making it harder for illegal immigrants to buy insurance under the bill, so I don't think they are always conservative. There's a good book by a Yale law professor named Stephen Carter on the issue of religion and politics that is worth taking a look at on this point.

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Abingdon, Md.: My 14-year-old son is taking American Government in school and on Saturday night he and I watched the health care vote, and it is worth noting that he found it more interesting than I thought he would. He did think it odd that (especially) the Republicans all voted against it (except the one of course) and got the impression that "they had to" based on some of the commentary going on during the vote. Which leads one to ask -- how many people voted against(or for) the health care bill against the wishes of their district? That's not exactly how he worded it, but that was his general question--any idea?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't have this number in front of me, but I think there are a dozen or so House Republicans who live in Democratic-leaning districts. Most of them there are enough things wrong with the health care bill that they can justify their no votes back home.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Might Mr Cao run as a Democrat next year? An independent if the GOP runs a very conservative candidate against him in the primary? Doesn't Louisiana have that crazy run-off provision if no one gets a majority in the General election?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think if he wanted to switch parties, the Democrats in Washington would love that. It's complicated in New Orleans I suspect by race, that district is I believe majority-black and long had an African-American member. If a strong black candidate ran against Cao in a primary, that would hurt him.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: I"m out of time. Have a great week.

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