Speaking at a senior center in Strongsville, Ohio, Obama said, “We need courage,” picking up a line shouted by a woman in the audience. Truth be told, what he really needs are 216 votes, which at the start of what will be a very intense week had not yet been secured. And the delicate steps congressional lawmakers must dance to get there have made an already daunting challenge more so.
Unlike Republican lawmakers who remain united and unbowed in their opposition to healthcare reform legislation, Democrats are facing a variety of issues. Some lawmakers are unhappy that there won’t be a public option. Some dislike the Senate language on abortion, saying it goes too far while others say it doesn’t go far enough.
“When you’ve got all of these things going on, it makes [whipping votes] very, very difficult,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina).
Public opinion hasn’t helped either. A Gallup poll released last week found that 48% of Americans would advise their Congressional representatives to vote against a healthcare bill similar to the one proposed by Obama. It’s yet another reason some lawmakers are still on the fence.
But Clyburn says what voters are really reacting to is the sausage—or deal—making, which in their eyes is both constant and unseemly.
“If we pass this bill, as I think we will very soon, and go out to the American people and say, all this other stuff aside, here’s what we did, people are going to love it,” said Clyburn.
In his Ohio speech, Obama attempted to give a preview of what’s to come, using as his example a woman who was forced to give up her insurance before learning she had leukemia. He also reiterated previous arguments in support of reform, such as a prohibition on denying coverage based on preexisting conditions and expanding coverage to include 31million people who are currently uninsured.
Taking a populist tone, he said Americans are waiting for lawmakers to lead.
“They don’t want us putting our finger out to the wind. They don’t want us reading polls,” he said. They want us to look and see what is the best thing for America and then do what’s right.”
The Congressional Budget Office is expected to deliver its score of Senate bill on Tuesday. On Monday, the House Budget Committee voted by 21 to 16 to use a budget reconciliation process to add fixes to the Senate healthcare bill before the House votes on it. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who sits on the panel, called it a “legislative Trojan horse.”
Next, the Rules Committee will decide what can be discussed on the floor and the rules of debate. A full House vote probably won’t take place before Friday or Saturday.