House Democrats Against Health Reform

There continues to be, I think, an undue level of attention being put on the actions of Barack Obama and their implication for health reform. The fact of the matter is that whether or not the president gives a speech that Paul Krugman likes to tomorrow’s joint session of congress, there’s actually little evidence that presidential rhetoric can move the dial on public opinion. Individual members of congress are ultimately going to decide the fate of reform based on their own balance of considerations — grassroots pressure, public opinion, campaign contributions, leadership arm twisting, and possibly a personal sense of morality. Mike Soraghan and Michael Gleeson writing in the Hill calculate that 23 House Democrats have already committed to voting “no”:

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.” […]

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.’”

In the House, of course, the Democrats have 38 votes worth of leeway, so the leadership won’t mind if a couple dozen of the most vulnerable members want to vote no. But the closer you edge up to that magic number of 38, the easier it becomes for a relatively small bloc to hold the bill hostage to their idiosyncratic demands, probably weakening the thing. In particular, I’m worried that the House bill might find itself modified-down to more Baucus-like affordability and coverage provisions.