The Speaker of the House and the President have two options right now: hold and lose the vote in the House, or wait and vote after the Senate.
By my own count the Speaker and the President are light at least ten votes — and could be light as many as twenty three — depending on the dynamic on the House floor.
The problem is that some yes votes could get changed to no as the loss becomes apparent — why take a beating for a tough vote when the thing is going down?
Members of Congress will not take a beating, just for the sake of taking a beating. They will switch votes, and that is how you get to the fifty to fifty-five House Dems voting no.
The smart play for the Speaker is to don the robes of Mother Protector — I will save my House Members from Walking the Plank — we are waiting for the Senate to vote first. That way her House Members are protected against the bill dying in the Senate, without having taken a tough vote.
As one Senate Dem lobbyist told me yesterday, “Reid can get on the bill, he just can’t get off.” Translating from Washington-speak: Senator Reid can get past the filibuster of the motion to proceed, he just cannot end the filibuster against the bill itself. It is like Senator Reid’s own version of Hotel California hell — he can check in but he can never leave.
This is why the smart play for the Speaker and the White House is to punt. And Harry Reid’s offense takes the field.
Reid then takes the blame if he can’t get into the end zone. The Speaker merely points out the obvious: I was acting in the best political interest of my members. Why should we take tough votes on Medicare cuts, guns, immigration, abortion, taxes, spending, mandates (government control) and watch the Senate fail? (Again.)
But the continued forever quest for the holy-health care grail is making her look like Captain Ahab and the search for the Great White Whale — which in the end he found — it killed him, his ship and all but one of his crew.
If the reaction to waiting for the Senate is an acknowledgment that Senator Reid will fail, then this underlines even stronger the reason why the vote should wait — unless the goal really is to force the political death of some of the red state Democrats.
Failing is Succeeding
On the other hand, there are two arguments making the rounds in Washington about why the Speaker should have the vote, and lose the vote.
First, notwithstanding her dictum that she “does not like to show weakness,” she will first and foremost end the misery of the walking health care political nightmare she is living. Health care has divided her caucus, radically divided it. There are not just petty differences — but raw, unadulterated anger and hatred that you save for members of your own side. Some on the left want the Blue Dogs to lose and have argued that forcing a vote will insure losses by the Blue Dogs. (The Blue Dogs understand that they are hated in some quarters to the point of those doing the hating wish them dead, politically speaking.)
Her caucus is being ripped apart. She is living night and day health care pain, and has been for months. At some point you have to put down the razor blades and knives and stop your team from cutting itself anymore.
So, immediately ending the political pain for her team is the first result of losing the vote. The pain of losing will be shorter lived than the current poked-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick-pain, where every opposed organized lobby and angry citizen just keeps pounding day and night on her and her flock, who in turn are fighting each other.
Second, losing the vote means her left wing base is intact in San Francisco and nationally. She took the risk, she delivered a liberal’s fantasy-health-reform bill to the progressives. It is not her fault that the left did not have the strength to pass it — she went well beyond the call of duty to try and get it passed.
Third, the country, just like the Speaker’s caucus, is continuing to be harmed by the uber-health care focus. There are other problems that need the attention of the U.S. House.
Finally, if the Speaker does not have the vote now, is waiting going to make getting the votes any easier? Or is waiting going to illustrate to everyone that the Speaker has never had the votes for her health care plan. She doesn’t have them now, and never did have the votes.
It is time, Madame Speaker, to act in the interest of your caucus and let them off the hook. Don’t force them to walk the plank. Wait for the Senate. Then again, perhaps saving Sen. Reid's skin is more important to the Speaker than saving her own members from this brutal vote.