President Barack Obama met with House Democrats to make a final appeal today — a day when the epic health care reform battle is expected to come to a House vote. It’s a vote that promises to be historic in terms of social programs — and how it defines both parties.
One one side, the Democrats, whose votes could determine how members do when they’re up for re-election in 2010. On the other, the Republicans, whose votes are expected to unanimously oppose the plan — thus setting up the GOP as an alternative party that voted in the House solidly against Obama’s stimulus and health care reform. A mistake (because voters in 2010 will approve the stimulus results and health care reform?)? Or a masterstroke (because voters by then will not feel the impact of both measures and feel they were sold a bill of rhetorical goods)?
Obama visited the House earlier today, reminding House Democrats that this is what Democrats said they would do in the campaign, the AP reports.
UPDATE: The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein reports details of some of what Obama told the Democratic lawmakers. His bottom line: that the GOP will attack no matter how you vote on health care reform (in other words: a negative vote won’t be the political equivalent of H1N1 vaccine):
In a final push to get health care reform through the House of Representatives,
President Barack Obama warned lawmakers on Saturday that a vote against the legislation would not immunize them from Republican attacks.
The president, according multiple attendees, played the role of political prognosticator during his roughly 30 minute address before Democratic caucus members on Capitol Hill. Addressing, implicitly, those conservative Democrats who are worried about voting for a nearly trillion dollar health care overhaul, he insisted that they would not be safe from partisan attack even if they opposed the bill.
“He certainly talked about the politics and he said that the Republicans want us to fail and no one should feel if they as a Democrat helped us to fail that they would be [free of their attacks],” said Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
“None of you can expect the Republicans not to go after you if you vote against this bill,” Waxman continued, channeling the president. “They want this bill to go down for their own partisan reasons.”
Another high-ranking Democratic hill staffer briefed on the meeting put it this way: “Obama’s main message was that the GOP won’t go any easier on you if you vote against the bill. It’s a tough vote, yes, but they’re going to take heat either way.”
Meanwhile, the big political news, heading into the debate, is that anti-abortionists won to big ones in the last 24 hours:
1. Anti-abortion Democrats scored a major procedural victory and, by doing so, a symoblic victory that also decreased the risk of defections in more conservative Democrats’ ranks:
But the contentious issue of abortion is threatening to delay Saturday’s scheduled vote on the nearly $1.1 trillion health care bill by the full House of Representatives and possibly push it back to Sunday, according to two Democratic sources.
In a late night development, anti-abortion Democrats scored a major victory by persuading Democratic leaders to allow them to offer an amendment during the House health care debate Saturday that would ban most abortion coverage from the public option and other insurance providers in the new so-called “exchange” the legislation would create, three Democratic sources told CNN.
The prohibition would exclude cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.
House Democratic leadership sources said that win or lose, they hope giving abortion foes the opportunity to vote will clear the way for passage of their health care bill.
2. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are endorsing the amendment, The Politico reports:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops delivered a critical endorsement to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday by signing off on late-night agreement to grant a vote on an amendment barring insurance companies that participate in the exchange from covering abortions.
“Passing this amendment allows the House to meet our criteria of preserving the existing protections against abortion funding in the new legislation,” the Bishops wrote in a letter to individual members. “Most importantly, it will ensure that no government funds will be used for abortion or health plans which include abortion.”
Expect GOPers to vote in a solid block, according to the Washington Post:
The 177 Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to unanimously oppose health-care legislation that would constitute the biggest expansion of insurance to Americans in decades, illustrating the huge divide that remains between the two parties on key issues and setting up a major debate in next year’s elections.
The universal opposition to the health-care bill, which Congress could vote on as soon as Saturday, was long expected, but Republican wins in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races on Tuesday further emboldened the GOP in its stance. If all Republicans vote no on the health reform bill, it would mean not a single Republican up for election next year in the House or the Senate has backed the two biggest initiatives of President Obama’s first year in office — the $787 billion economic stimulus plan and the health-care legislation.
Top officials in both parties said the unified GOP opposition would help their side. Republicans said they are trying to block a bill that has generated strong opposition around the country; Democrats said the health-care vote would cement the view that Republicans aren’t acting to help Americans suffering through the recession.
But is it that clear at all? Consider:
The Christian Science Monitor notes:
With Election Day in the rearview mirror, the Republican Party has conflicted feelings.
The gubernatorial wins in Virginia (expected) and New Jersey (a bit of a surprise) are reassuring. But New York’s 23rd Congressional District, where party infighting helped Democratic candidate Bill Owens, sits out there like a big warning sign.
To recap that race: Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman choked off funding and support for Republican Dede Scozzafava, who eventually left the race. Ms. Scozzafava then endorsed Mr. Owens, and he won by about 5,000 votes – as Scozzafava captured about 6,000 protest votes.
As much as Republicans wanted to win the seat, some of them also reasoned that if Owens won the race, there would be widespread recognition that intraparty squabbling was at fault. So far, that doesn’t appear to have happened.
High-profile members of the more conservative wing of the GOP – former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint – have already announced that they will support conservative challengers to Republican front-runners in US Senate races in Florida and California. That could present trouble for the party in those places.
What does this mean for 2010?
So what does all that mean for a potentially divided GOP in those Florida and California Senate races? It isn’t good.
The community types heavily represented in Florida and California could present real problems for Republicans if conservatives split the vote or force the eventual nominee to lean further right.
The east coast of Florida has densely populated “Monied ’Burbs” and Latino-heavy “Immigration Nation” counties. Both of those community types went for Obama in 2008. Tampa, as well as north of Tampa, contains a lot of diversifying “Boom Town” counties. Those places tend to lean Republican, but they also tend to be more moderate and could be put off by a divisive fight.
In California, the terrain is much tougher. The biggest chunks of the state’s population live in the big-city “Industrial Metropolis” and “Monied ’Burb” counties. Those places went heavily for Obama in 2008. The GOP might have a chance at winning those counties if it has a very moderate candidate and the economy is poor. Even in that scenario, the fight would be difficult. But a conservative Republican nominee would probably make it all but impossible.
But there is a familiar strain in some of the comments by hard-right conservatives and hard-left conservatives: it’s “we’d rather lose the seat with a good candidate than have someone for our party holding it who is really like the other side.” Which sometimes means a moderate (which are REALLY conservative Republicans or liberal Democrats, depending on which partisan is doing the defininig) or centrist.
So when the health care House votes are taken, the end-result will further define the two parties (a monolithic House GOP and a mostly united Democrats or a monolithic GOP and splintered Democrats), with implications for Obama’s clout — as both parties race to 2010 a year when the race is to see which party gobbles itself other up most so the other one can win.