Thursday, January 21, 2010

Counting Votes in the House 2

In part one, I concluded that all else equal, Members of the House would want to vote against the Senate health care bill, but still have it pass.

Now, I slipped in an "all else equal" up there, but it turns out it makes a big difference.  As several people have noted today, the House already has cast votes on health care.  However, while the House voted yes, many Democratic Members voted no.  It's time to think in terms of categories.

1.  Voted for the bill, Senate bill is just as good or better.  That group should obviously vote for the bill.  This group, moderates who have already voted for the House bill, is the group with incentives most changed by circumstances.  Because they've already voted yes (to a bill their districts presumably like less than the Senate bill), they really have to vote yes again. 

2.  Voted for the bill, Senate bill is worse because it's less liberal.  That group should reluctantly vote for the bill; everyone in that group wants health reform, and this is the only way to get it.  Groups one and two combine for 178 Members of the House.

3.  Voted for the bill, Senate bill is worse because it's more liberal.  This is the Stupak group.  Their logic is tough to predict.  On the one hand, even if they vote no they'll still be attacked by reform opponents because of the original vote.  On the other hand, they may be jeopardizing their pro-life reputations.  It's a hard call which way to go for this group, which includes 41 Members of the House.

4.  Voted against the bill because it wasn't liberal enough.  That group is in the same boat as group #2, and should (even more) reluctantly support the bill.  It's just a handful of Members.

5.  Voted against the bill because it was too liberal.  This group is in a major bind; the Senate bill looks better to them, but their districts are probably clearly against the bill.  They may think that they can escape blame for the bill if they vote no throughout, but they are (mostly) also in the most vulnerable districts, and are in the most need for Democrats to remain popular overall, something that is better achieved by passing the bill.  They are the ones that probably fall the deepest into wanting the bill to pass without their votes.  Moreoever, we can divide this group again:

5a. Opposed the bill, supported Stupak.  23 Democrats were in this group; they have the strongest incentives for voting against the Senate bill; I expect few if any will vote yes.
5b.  Opposed the bill because it was too liberal, opposed Stupak.  Combining this category and category 4 adds up to sixteen votes.

The bill passed, 220-215.  I'll assume that the lone Republican, Cao of Louisiana, will not provide the 218th vote.  219 Democrats voted yes in November; how many would vote yes in January?   As I count it, the bill starts with a base of 178, and needs to pick up forty votes out of the 41 who supported the bill and Stupak, and the 16 who opposed the bill and Stupak.  Some of the 41 (Hey reporters! -- we need these numbers!) were really soft pro-choicers who tossed a vote the other way once they knew that Stupak was going to pass; they should be satisfied with the Nelson language, which puts them really in category two; also, the 16 includes the handful of liberals who voted against it from the left.  For everyone in those groups, the best case is probably voting against a bill that passes.

That's where the leadership comes in, figuring out exactly who is most vulnerable, who is most unreliable, and making sure that the 218 are there.  Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the leadership -- and Barack Obama and his staff -- are going to earn their pay on this one.  If I had to bet, I still think the bill will pass, but the nature of this is that it's going to go down to the wire.

I will say one thing: whoever is out there writing a book on this couldn't have asked for more.  We just don't know yet whether the picture on the cover is Ted Kennedy with Barack Obama, or Scott Brown's centerfold.

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