At least 23 House Democrats already have told constituents or hometown media that they oppose the massive healthcare overhaul touted by President Barack Obama.
If Republicans offer the blanket opposition they’ve promised, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can afford to lose only 38 members of her 256-member caucus and still pass the bill.
“I’ll do the best I can, but I don’t know what’s the right thing to do yet,” Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) told the Los Angeles Times after a town hall meeting. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t even know what we’re going to be voting on.”
And plenty of others aren’t ready to take a position.
Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who unseated an incumbent in 2008 by a scant 745 votes, said at a town hall meeting , “I am a ‘no’ now, but I really want to get to a ‘yes.’ ”
At least 60 liberal Democrats have pledged to vote against a healthcare bill with no public option, which they view as watered-down reform.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has said dropping the public option completely would lose 100 Democratic votes.
Even Pelosi’s critics and skeptics have to concede that she has almost never lost in the House since becoming Speaker. The main exception is the first vote on the $700 billion bailout package requested by the Bush administration, which later passed.
She twisted arms one by one in July to pass a climate change bill despite deep skepticism among centrists and Democrats from manufacturing states. But some of the public backlash from that has frightened and angered centrist and vulnerable members.
Democratic critics have different reasons for opposing the bill, and their opposition varies in its vehemence.
Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) a supporter of a “single-payer” system, opposes it because the public option isn’t strong enough. Other “single-payer” supporters in the party’s left wing could balk as well.
Some are definitive. There’s Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), a Blue Dog who is one of the most conservative members of the Democratic Caucus. He told a town hall meeting last month, “I would hope by now that everyone in this room knows that I am not going to vote for the healthcare plan.”
Rep. John Adler (D-N.J.), a vulnerable Democrat, was equally blunt. He told a group of constituents last month, “The bill that’s coming through the House, with or without the public option, isn’t good for America.”
Others, such as Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), say they can’t support the bill “in its current form.” The bill is widely expected to change before it goes to the House floor, but if Pelosi keeps the public option in the bill, many centrists will see it as a left-leaning bill.