Democrats Seem Poised for a Victory on Health Care

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“We feel like we’ve been pregnant for 17 months, let’s get on with it already.” Those were the words of Democrat Rep. Louise Slaughter, chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, on Saturday, as she moved health reform one step closer to the finish line.

Well put. After all the hearings and debates and town halls; after the Gang of Six broke up and Scott Brown got elected; after Glenn Beck convinced a lot of people that Democratic health reform is socialism; after Barack Obama’s poll numbers slid and slid and slid…It’s time for lawmakers to cast what could be the second to last vote on comprehensive health care reform this year.

On the eve of what he hopes will be an historic political and policy achievement, President Obama gave an impassioned speech to House Democrats Saturday on the merits of liberalism, hoping to inspire few more to vote yes on the legislation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued to round up votes Saturday and was reportedly a handful away from the 216 she needs to pass the Senate health bill and a package of changes to that legislation.

“We are proud of our individualism,” said Obama, speaking before congressional Democratic leaders and the House Democratic caucus. “We are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of neighborliness and a sense of community and we are willing to look out for one another and help people that are vulnerable, and help people that are down on their luck and give them a pathway to success, and give them a ladder into the middle class.”

Pelosi seems to be on the cusp of success, with various news media tallies indicating she will have enough votes to declare victory by Sunday evening. Even so, Republican opposition was still in full force all day Saturday with House Minority Leader John Boehner saying passage of the Democratic plan for health reform would constitute “Armageddon” that would “ruin our country.” Republican and Democratic leaders are lined up to duke it out again on the Sunday morning talk shows.

To assure House Democrats worried Senate Democrats might not follow through on passing a package of changes to the Senate bill, Pelosi circulated a letter on Saturday from Senate Majority Harry Reid that pledged in writing to do just that. And an earlier proposal to pass the package of changes without ever formally voting on the Senate bill was reportedly discarded on Saturday. Republicans celebrated what could be viewed as a small victory for them – they had heavily criticized the so-called “deem and pass” strategy as circumventing fair legislative practice. But it’s just as possible that Pelosi figured she could pass the Senate bill without making the vote indirect – meaning that throwing out “deem and pass” was actually a sign of Democratic strength.

Pro-life Democrats who supported language in the original House bill that would have restricted access to abortion still constituted the largest bloc of holdout votes Saturday night. There were rumors late Saturday that Obama would issue an executive order reaffirming that health reform legislation will not provide federal funds for abortion, which could provide some political cover and allow some of these Democrats to vote for the Senate bill. Bart Stupak, the pro-life Democratic congressman who authored the original House abortion language, abruptly canceled a morning press conference on Saturday.

But barring something unforeseen, it seems likely that, by Monday, Democrats will have something to celebrate after so many months of uncertainty.

(In addition to lawmakers, anti-health reform protesters were on Capitol Hill Saturday and a few made headlines when it was reported that some in the protest crowd called Rep. Barney Frank, who is gay, a “faggot” and yelled the N word at at least two other Africa-American congressmen – Re. John Lewis and Andre Carson. A protester also spat on African-American Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, but his office said he declined to press charges.)