Pelosi Time: Speaker Seeks Switches Amid Political Crunch

Mar 1, 2010 8:05am

By Rick Klein Who’s counting, anyway? (Everybody, actually.) Maybe this is the month where a deadline finally matters. Maybe time being up means the game has to end this time. Now comes the brutal politics that answers some brutal math. The House lacks the votes to pass comprehensive health care reform. That has to change, or President Obama and his party will be missing a rather important piece to take to the voters this fall. But the fact that we’re stuck here, shy of 217 votes at least for now, means not all Democrats see it that way. The only thing you need to know about the numbers is that, if health care is going to pass, some House members are going to have to have been against it before they ended up being for it. And nothing in the political environment has made that an easier switch to make. The political argument to get there is no cleaner: Democratic leaders can make their case about the need to pass something for the future of the party. Rank-and-filers, particularly Blue Dogs, can make the same argument back — looking out for the future of the same party. But the key decisions have already been made. Now it’s all about the votes. “Time’s up, yes. So we really have to go forth,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas on “This Week” Sunday. “What’s the point of talking about it any longer?” But the talking will continue, unless someone knows of another way to get to 217. John Harwood, in The New York Times: “When Ms. Pelosi looks for votes among the 39 Democrats who opposed the health care bill last year, the 14 first-term members must pit re-election concerns against the impact on their future advancement within the House. Veterans who lead committees and subcommittees, if blamed for the demise of Mr. Obama’s top domestic priority, could find those positions in jeopardy.” Pelosi gave herself an “A for effort” in her “This Week” interview — but she’s not in charge of the next marking period: “The coming months are a make-or-break period for her, a brutal reality check of her ability to manage all aspects of her job — consensus-building, agenda-setting, vote-counting, fundraising and campaigning,” John Bresnahan and Jonathan Allen write for Politico. “Health care: Pelosi and other top House Democrats say publicly that they have the votes to push through a comprehensive package, but privately, they know they don’t.” “Monday kicks off a critical week for Democrats to push ahead with their overhaul,” The Wall Street Journal’s Susan Davis reports. “That leaves Democrats with two critical challenges: figuring out how to maneuver through the reconciliation over Republican objections, and how to rebuild sliding public support for the bill.” Still waiting on that pivot to jobs: “Democrats on Capitol Hill say that the struggle to pass health care reform legislation will likely last well into this month, and perhaps into April,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on “Good Morning America” Monday. James Carville, on “GMA,” asked if he’s as confident as Pelosi that the House will have the votes: “No — but I’m glad to hear that she’s confident…. We’re going to see how effective our leaders are. We’re going to see how effective the White House can be… But if this doesn’t get done, it will hurt the Democratic Party — there’s no doubt about that.” Matthew Dowd: “If you’re a Republican, I think they should try as hard as they can, and jam it through and pass the bill. … Right now, it’s all upside for Republicans, whether the bill passes or fails.” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt says Obama needs to go “Chicago-style”: “It can only pass with the support of reluctant Democrats, with the House more of a problem than the Senate; and it’s only going to happen if the president uses forceful persuasion on his wavering party members,” Hunt writes. “If it goes past the scheduled March 29 recess, sayonara. Obama will have to employ some heavy persuasion in explaining the political and personal consequences to Democrats if a bill goes down.” Better something than nothing: “The political risk to Mr. Obama of appearing to be an inept leader cannot be underestimated if he fails to achieve the primary legislative goal to which he devoted his first year in office,” Jules Witcover writes in his column in the Baltimore Sun. “He needs to employ whatever means are available to him now to get it, and then to move on to other challenges with enhanced leadership credibility.” Leadership, now: “House Democratic leaders are ready to play hardball and charge forward on reform in the way that they want to: by taking full advantage of their majority,” Roll Call’s Jennifer Bendery reports. “The process by which it’s done won’t be long remembered,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. Unless it is: “It looks like we’re trying to cram something through,” Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., tells Bloomberg News’ Kristin Jensen and Laura Litvan. “My preference would be to do smaller things,” Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Md., told The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear. “Reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform,” Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said on “Face the Nation.” Where’s the real enthusiasm for this? “It would be a political kamikaze mission for the Democratic Party if they jam this through,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said on “This Week.” (And he’ll be on ABC’s “Top Line” Monday with more, live at noon ET, streaming at And it gets harder: The retirement of Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, took effect Sunday, as he runs for governor, costing Pelosi another “yes” on health care. In Arkansas, new heat on Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., now from the populist left: “Lt. Gov. Bill Halter says he is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln this fall,” the AP’s Andrew DeMillo reports. “Halter’s spokesman provided a statement Monday in which the one-term lieutenant governor said he would file papers for the U.S. Senate this week. Halter is the only Democrat to formally announce a challenge to Lincoln as she seeks a third term.” A cleaner political battle — one that Democrats are more eager to have: Sen. Jim Bunning’s, R-Ky., hold on funding measures stopped a temporary extension of the Highway Trust Fund, too: “The Department of Transportation as of Monday morning must furlough 2,000 federal workers. DOT says that number could climb if this stalemate over funding drags on,” ABC’s Lisa Stark reports. “Employees affected include federal inspectors overseeing highway projects on federal lands. If the inspectors aren’t there, the projects must shut down.” It’s actually not all Bunning’s fault: “Democratic leaders scrambled during the weekend to overcome a series of roadblocks that have slowed progress on even the initial phases of their jobs agenda,” Politico’s Lisa Lerer reports. “House leaders are confident they’ll be able to move a jobs bill this week. But in the Senate, quick passage of popular unemployment benefits seems far less certain.”  AP analysis, ready for wide circulation on Monday: “Last year, the first of the 111th Congress, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40. That means, with 10 months left to run in the 111th Congress, Republicans have turned to the filibuster or threatened its use at a pace that will more than triple the old record.” Other kinds of nuclear options: “As President Obama begins making final decisions on a broad new nuclear strategy for the United States, senior aides say he will permanently reduce America’s arsenal by thousands of weapons. But the administration has rejected proposals that the United States declare it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons,” David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker report in The New York Times. “Aides said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates will present Mr. Obama with several options on Monday to address unresolved issues in that [Nuclear Posture Review] document, which have been hotly debated within the administration.” Also on the president’s Monday schedule: “In remarks at the US Chamber of Commerce this morning President Obama will discuss a national effort to help curb the dropout rate, better prepare students for colleges and careers, and target low-performing schools,” ABC’s Sunlen Miller reports. “The president’s remarks will be part of The America’s Promise Alliance Education event hosted by Alliance Founding Chairman General Colin Powell and his wife and Alliance Chair Alma Powell.” Deficit days: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., speaks at 1 pm ET at the Brookings Institution in Washington, endorsing a “balanced approach” to addressing the deficit, per excerpts provided to The Note. “This, then, is our turning point and our choice: the point at which we join the debt-ridden powers who saw the story of their greatness end in fiscal ruin, or the point at which we as a nation refuse that ending and write a new chapter,” Hoyer plans to say. “Given the seriousness of our situation, the [president's fiscal] commission must come to a consensus, and Congress must act on its proposals at the end of the year…. It seems to me that the only solution that can win the support of both parties is a balanced approach: one that cuts some spending and raises some revenue while avoiding extremes in either direction. A balanced approach would spread the effects of change across American society.” Hoyer continues: “Our willingness to face reality is a measure of our character. Our willingness to reject easy answers from our leaders is a measure of our character. Our willingness to put the welfare of our children ahead of our own — to plant seeds for them whose fruit we may never taste — is a powerful test of our character.” Former Vice President Al Gore, pushing back after a snowy month: “The political paralysis that is now so painfully evident in Washington has thus far prevented action by the Senate — not only on climate and energy legislation, but also on health care reform, financial regulatory reform and a host of other pressing issues,” Gore wrote in a Sunday New York Times op-ed. “The pathway to success is still open, though it tracks the outer boundary of what we are capable of doing,” he continued. “Later this week, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are expected to present for consideration similar cap-and-trade legislation. I hope that it will place a true cap on carbon emissions and stimulate the rapid development of low-carbon sources of energy.” Looking forward to Tuesday’s Texas primary — and beyond: “The eyes of Texas are on Tuesday’s Republican gubernatorial primary between Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. And that’s just how former Houston mayor Bill White likes it,” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes. “White is heavily favored to emerge as the Democratic nominee — he faces free-spending hair-care magnate Farouk Shami — and is seen by both state and national observers as the party’s first real chance of breaking the vise grip that Republicans have had on the state’s top office since George W. Bush unseated Democratic Gov. Ann Richards in 1994.” New model for voter turnout? “Rick Perry’s campaign has a radical approach that eschews traditional voter turnout efforts in favor of extensive use of social media networks to win Tuesday’s GOP primary,” Gromer Jeffers Jr. writes for The Dallas Morning News. “Haven’t seen a Perry yard sign? There aren’t any, and Perry has no local office to house them. Dreading yet another phone call from a political candidate? Don’t worry; Perry has no phone banks. And you probably won’t see supporters with T-shirts knocking at the door.” “But you may get a Facebook message from a friend in your social circle. You’re more likely to find Perry campaign appeals on Twitter, even craigslist, than to see his mug on a highway billboard,” he writes. In Massachusetts, a no-go for a Kennedy: “Joseph P. Kennedy III said yesterday that he will not run for Congress this year, ending feverish speculation that the young Cape Cod prosecutor would seek the 10th District seat if Representative William Delahunt retires,” Susan Milligan reports in The Boston Globe.  Said Kennedy: “Elective office and public service are obviously something that have long ties with my family, and something I’m definitely interested in. Right now, I’ve got a job I love, and hope to get better at.” In Nevada, a bad poll for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but a good one, too: “Sue Lowden has emerged as a clear leader among Republicans fighting for the chance to run against Sen. Harry Reid this fall, according to a new poll that also shows the incumbent Democrat continues to trail against his major challengers,” Steve Tetreault reports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “But the polling done for the Las Vegas Review-Journal also shows this year’s U.S. Senate race could undergo a major shake-up if a Tea Party candidate gets involved. It would be a new ballgame, and Reid would be the big beneficiary.” Plus: “President Barack Obama’s approval rating remains low in Nevada despite a recent high-profile visit, according to a new poll that suggests state residents are taking a harsher view of the president than elsewhere in the country,” the Review-Journal’s Alan Choate reports. Coming Tuesday, in Chile: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Chile on Tuesday, part of a five country swing through Latin America that was planned well before Saturday’s massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake,” ABC’s Kirit Radia reports. The Kicker: “We share some of the views of the Tea Partiers in terms of the role of special interest in Washington, D.C.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on Sunday, inviting activists to a new party. “What they want is a continuation of the failed economic policies of President George Bush which got us in the situation we are in now. What we want is a new direction.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, last April, preferring her own party to the Tea Partiers. For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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