House Dems Haven't Started Counting Health Care Votes

08/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ryan Grim Washington Bureau Chief, The Huffington Post

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the man in charge of counting Democratic votes, said Friday that the party has yet to start putting that tally together.

"Oh, no. What is there to whip? Good grief, I'd have whiplash trying to whip this after all these meetings," Clyburn said in response to a question from the Huffington Post.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has said repeatedly that she has the votes she needs to pass health care reform.

As the deadline to pass health care reform slips, however, dissent that had been kept under the lid has started to boil over.

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), chairman of a key health subcommittee on the Education and Labor Committee, described a tense meeting of Democrats on Thursday. "[I]t got pretty heated. People felt pretty passionately about this. I won't mention any names," he said, smiling and looking at Clyburn, who laughed.

"[P]eople were kind of yelling at each other and if you had taken a look at that you'd have said these people are never going to get to agreement on this. But by about 10 this morning they had."

That particular agreement related to regional disparities in Medicare reimbursement, a thorny subject.

"We are having an unruly, disorganized, hard-to-follow, hard-edged process called democracy, where people are speaking their minds and coming to agreement," said Andrews.

Clyburn conceded that the process has been slowed in the House by the even slower pace in the Senate. There are members of his caucus, he said, who don't want to vote on the House bill until the Senate Finance Committee has acted. "There are some members of our caucus who feel that is very important," he said.

Clyburn said he looked forward to continued negotiations to "get a good product that we can begin to start [vote] counting."

House Republicans are enjoying the Democratic spectacle. "Whipping the vote is kind of a big deal, but it's understandable why Mr. Clyburn wouldn't want to actually talk to his own members with the Speaker making one ludicrous claim after another," clucked one GOP aide to the Huffington Post.

There is no merged bill to whip because a handful of Blue Dog Democrats have held up the Energy and Commerce Committee. The Blue Dog stubbornness is wearing on Chairman Henry Waxman's patience. On Friday, he yanked their leash, saying that if they didn't relent he'd have "no alternative" but to skip past his committee and go right to the floor.

"I won't allow them to hand over control of our committee to Republicans," he growled to reporters.

Clyburn told the Huffington Post that he wasn't yet ready for such an aggressive move. "I don't know about that. I always want to follow the regular order," he said.