THE BLOG
03/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Fierce Urgency of Never: House Democrats Must Pass the Senate Bill

With Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts, there is now only one way for Congress to approve a larger health care package: the House must pass the Senate bill, and the stakes could not be higher.

Right now, many Members are either noncommittal or vocal in their belief that the House cannot pass the Senate bill, a view born out of fear from the Massachusetts result. Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly said that she doesn't have the votes, and for his part, President Obama even called on Congress to take it slow.

The lack of urgency among the White House and Congress is startling, and some plans being bandied about - to start over or to take up numerous separate bills - are absurd and would commit more weeks and perhaps months to what has been an endlessly broken and unpopular process.

Obama and Members need to wake up. Failure to pass the Senate bill will doom any substantive reform and flip control of the House to the GOP. If the party passes nothing, they will be politically impotent and undeserving of a congressional majority. A bill must be passed, soon, and Obama and Pelosi need to impose that urgency on Members so Democrats can turn their focus to jobs and the economy in the run-up to the midterm elections.

So, how can the House pass the Senate bill? Passage will likely hinge on how successfully the Speaker can recruit voters of the Stupak Amendment onboard. Because the Senate bill doesn't have the same anti-abortion provisions that were in the House bill, a coalition of pro-life Democrats could kill it.

In total, 64 Democratic Members voted for the Amendment, and of those, 36 of them voted for the House health care bill that passed 220-to-215. It is well documented that the bill would have failed if not for the inclusion of the Amendment. Therefore, it is imperative for these Members to be convinced to back the Senate bill.

One way to achieve the magic number for of 218 votes would be to promise Stupak backers that separate legislation codifying the Amendment (and other differences between the House and Senate bills) would be taken up separately through reconciliation.

Assuming a deal can get done, I have identified and broken into groups the 48 Democratic Members - 45 of whom voted for Stupak - who will determine the fate of health care.

Retirees. The five retirees who opposed the first House bill can and should vote for the Senate bill without worry about the electoral consequences:
Reps. Marion Berry (AR-01), Vic Snyder (AR-02), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08), and Brian Baird (WA-03).

Generally liberal-to-moderate Members. A large group of Stupak supporters who backed the House bill must heed pressure to back the Senate bill:
Reps. Dennis Cardoza (CA-18), Jim Costa (CA-20), Joe Baca (CA-43), Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Dan Lipinski (IL-03), Michael Michaud (ME-02), Richard Neal (MA-02), Stephen Lynch (MA-09), Dale Kildee (MI-05), Tim Ryan (OH-17), Jim Langevin (RI-02), and Ciro Rodriguez (TX-23). Dennis Kucinich (OH-10) won't dare vote against health care again.

Chairmen and senior Members. Chairmen wield great power, but they serve at the pleasure of leadership. Despite the support for Stupak among several chairs, they can be expected to vote with the leadership in such a titanic vote:
Reps. James Oberstar (MN-08), Paul Kanjorski (PA-11), John Murtha (PA-12), John Spratt (SC-05), Silvestre Reyes (TX-16), Solomon Ortiz (TX-27), Alan Mollohan (WV-01), Nick Rahall (WV-03), and Dave Obey (WI-07). Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-07), the prickly Agriculture Committee chairman, voted against the final House health care bill; he must be told to vote for the Senate bill or face strong consequences.

Members who already voted for reform. Pelosi can argue to vulnerable Members who voted for the House bill that regardless of how they vote on the Senate bill, they will still be attacked in the fall:
Reps. John Salazar (CO-03), Joe Donnelly (IN-02), Baron Hill (IN-08), Mark Schauer (MI-07), Bill Owens (NY-23), Steve Driehaus (OH-01), Charlie Wilson (OH-06), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), and Tom Perriello (VA-05).

Take one for the team
Freshman Rep. John Adler (NJ-03) voted against the House bill, but should be told he has no political future if he votes 'no' again. Rep. Artur Davis (AL-07) opposed the House bill because he is running for governor of Alabama, but his vote is needed. Reps. Allen Boyd (FL-02) and Bob Etheridge (NC-02) are veterans who can politically afford to vote 'aye.'

Key Members. Several Members have strong personal convictions on the abortion issue. Convincing them to vote for the bill will go a long way with their colleagues. Stupak's vote is the most critical one, and Pelosi might be able to get it by re-empowering Stupak's once active Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee after it was declared following Stupak's backing of Rep. John Dingell in his fight for the gavel with current chair Henry Waxman:
Reps. Bart Stupak (MI-01), Jerry Costello (IL-12), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-03), Mike Doyle (PA-14), and Jim Cooper (TN-05).

Our count finds that with a tremendous deal of arm-twisting and assuming all the other Members who backed the bill the first time stay in-line, there will be a handful more than the 218 votes needed for passage.

This is the best possible outcome for Democrats. This breakdown gives them enough votes for a majority and provides cover to the most vulnerable Members. Nonetheless, it is not a guarantee that the bill will be passed because unfathomably, Democrats still do not understand what is on the line or have any apparent sense of urgency.

The political stakes are clear. The House must pass the Senate bill. There is no more time, and the majority that Democrats fought so hard to achieve will be gone in an instant if they fail.