With the clock ticking down to a dramatic Sunday vote on healthcare reform, congressional Democrats are beginning to line up to support President Obama — but the battle's ultimate outcome remains very much in doubt.
"The time for reform is now," President Obama told an enthusiastic crowd shortly before noon Friday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "We have waited long enough… In two days, a century-long struggle will culminate in a historic vote."
Hundreds of bullhorn-wielding, sign-waving tea party activists rallied outside the venue, as the president confessed to the college audience inside that the legislative process on healthcare reform had been "messy," "frustrating," and "ugly." But he also compared his reform initiatives to historic legislative fights to enact Social Security and civil rights legislation.
Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, followed Obama's remarks with a brief response carried by some cable news channels. "There's not one American who thinks we're going to save money on this," Boehner said. "The American people do not want any part of this."
Boehner also warned that, if Democrats vote to force the bill through Congress, the electorate will hold them accountable in the November midterm elections.
Democrat's hopes of passing healthcare received a major boost Friday morning, with news that two previously undecided members, Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., and John Boccieri, D-Ohio, would vote for the healthcare reforms.
A third congressman, Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio, told The Cleveland Plain Dealer he also would support the measure.
Those announcements softened the blow Democratic leaders received Thursday, when two Democrats who were expected to vote for the reform measure instead switched their votes to oppose it.
Engel's announcement came Friday morning on MSNBC. Although he has supported healthcare reform in principle, he had objected that the Senate bill that the House is expected to vote on was not "fair and equitable."
Engel told MSNBC he spent Thursday night reviewing the text of the healthcare measure scheduled for a Sunday vote and made up his mind.
"Upon reviewing the bill, I am satisfied that the bill has moved a great deal towards the House bill in terms of compensating my state, and doing the right thing for healthcare," he said. "So I determined this morning, it's the first time I'm coming out that I will vote for the bill. I think healthcare reform in this country is important."
Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who is retiring and won't be seeking re-election, also announced that he will support the bill. He voted against the earlier House legislation. Gordon cited Thursday's preliminary CBO finding to support his change of heart.
"I have consistently said I would not support any version of healthcare reform unless it brings down rising healthcare costs, improves access to affordable care, and does it all without adding one nickel to the national deficit," Gordon stated.
He added: "I've now been presented with a bill that does all three. In fact, this proposal reduces the deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the 10 years after that. Finding solutions to the problems we face has been challenging, but we simply cannot sustain the status quo any longer."
Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., who had opposed the bill, announced Thursday that she would vote for it.
No doubt top Democrats were frustrated, however, that two other Democrats flipped from supporting the bill to being against it: Michael Arcuri, D-N.Y., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.
By Friday, some media outlets were reporting Democrats were just a single vote away from winning the support they need to pass the reform bill. But other experts say the final outcome is still very much up for grabs.
The Washington Post tally as of noon Friday stated that, with 216 votes needed to pass Obamacare, the tally stands as follows: 166 votes in favor, 207 votes against, and 58 congressmen still officially undecided. Most of the undecided members, all of whom are Democrats, are expected to vote in favor. But collecting just nine more "no" votes would be enough to pull the plug on healthcare reform, if the Post's numbers hold true.
Clearly, leading Democrats have been putting extraordinary pressure on their members. The most obvious example is Illinois Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush. The Hill is reporting that Rush said Thursday he would vote against the bill, because he was worried about its impact on hospitals in poor neighborhoods.
On Thursday evening, however, Rush was confronted on the House floor by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. He was also later approached by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
A few moments later, Rush told reporters he no longer opposed Obamacare but merely was undecided. "This is a moving target," he said, according to the Hill. Rush added, "there's been significant movement over the last few weeks, last few minutes."
Asked what suddenly had changed in the yearlong healthcare debate, Rush replied that Democratic leaders now "understand the merits of my position."
He added: "We're working something out."
Also Thursday, the president asked Rep. Joseph Cao, R-La., the lone Republican who supported the House bill that passed in November, to reconsider his decision to oppose the new measure based on the language it contains regarding public funding for abortion.
Cao agreed to give the bill's wording another close inspection but did not indicate he would change his vote. Asked by PBS host Charlie Rose on Thursday whether Democrats have the votes to pass the bill, Democratic Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., seemed less than certain.
"I think so," Clyburn told Rose, citing the CBO analysis that he said left him "giddy."
"I really . . . believe that the people who were very leery about what this would do to the country's debt and deficit are very pleased with this," Clyburn said.
There are indication's Clyburn's statement reflects a degree of optimistic thinking however.
The Hill's "whip count" tally says the magic number for Democrats is 37. That's how many Democrats in the House can defect and still be able to pass the bill by a 216-215 margin.
Any more defections, the site reports, and Obamacare is thought to be beyond resuscitation.
As of shortly after 10 a.m. Friday, the Hill tally of where the votes are expected to fall showed the following:
- Thirty-six Democrats are in the "firm no, leaning no, likely no" category.
- Another 47 are in the undecided category.
- The rest are either yes votes, leaning yes, or likely yes, the Web site says.
Speaker Pelosi has stated that if the measure gets within 10 votes of passing, she can put it over the top. Presumably this is a reference to the fact that Pelosi gave some Democratic representatives permission to vote against the bill in November, to help them win re-election in their districts. She would now call in those votes on the critical vote that is pending.
Pundits say it would be a disaster for Democrats to bring the measure to a vote and fail to pass it.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has likened the tactic to "a suicide run."
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.