Pelosi to House caucus: You can't go home again

Byron York and the Washington Post agree on Nancy Pelosi’s plan to vote on her health-care bill this Saturday — she can’t afford to let Democrats go home to their districts before the vote.  In fact, as John McCormack notes, she can’t even afford to keep her promise to have the bill on line for 72 hours before the vote so that their constituents can know what they’re doing.  If they went home to face their constituents, Pelosi knows that they would never vote for her massive spending:

Although confident of victory, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democratic leaders were working to limit defections to the roughly 25 Democrats viewed as “hard no” votes. There will be 258 Democrats in the House by the time the vote takes place, but to secure the 218 votes needed for passage — and with prospects dim for Republican converts — Pelosi can afford to lose no more than 40 members of her caucus. President Obama had been slated to head to the Hill on Friday to push wavering Democrats to get behind the measure, but he called off the trip after Thursday’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Tex.

For party leaders, setting a weekend deadline for passage represented a calculated risk, one that could backfire if the vote — now expected late Saturday or Sunday — fails or must be delayed. But they feared that if members were given more time to consider the legislation, new issues could arise, particularly as lawmakers digest the results from Tuesday’s elections. Most ominous for Democrats were their losses in gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, although the party did prevail in House special elections in New York and California.

York says this puts the Democrats in a very difficult position:

The House is in the final rush toward passage of a national health care bill, and there’s one thing Speaker Nancy Pelosi absolutely, positively does not want her Democratic lawmakers to do: Go home.

“You meet constituents and get an earful from them — that’s the last thing she wants,” says a key House Republican aide. “If you were a Democrat, and you went home last weekend and were asked about the health care bill, you could say, ‘I’m still looking at it.’ Well, now you’ve had it for a week, the vote is any day now. What are you going to say?” Better just to stay in Washington and avoid potentially uncomfortable scenes. …

There are dozens of Democrats representing districts where a majority of voters have serious misgivings about national health care. And yet many will end up voting for their party’s bill. Why?

“The thing that Pelosi has going for her right now is that a lot of her members are more afraid of her than they are of their constituents,” says the GOP insider. He notes that Pelosi has plenty of weapons to make life miserable for members who cross her — “any benefits the member can have for the remainder of this Congress, the kind of support they’ll have going into next year’s election, and if they lose, what kind of post-Congress opportunities they will have.” All could be endangered by a vote against the health care bill.

So either they have to face down their constituents or their Speaker.  It says something about the power of Congress that a lawmaker fears a party boss more than the people who elected him or her.  Somehow, I’m sure that’s not what the founders had in mind for a citizen legislature and the people’s branch of government.

The solution for this is to have citizens call the offices of these Representatives and remind them who’s boss.

According to the latest news, the vote may now get pushed to Sunday.  That has more to do with the number of amendments offered on the bill and the expected debate on each than a fade from Pelosi on her whip counts.  However, as the Post reports, she has to hold the number of defections down to less than 40, and that assumes her entire caucus shows up this weekend.  Any more, and the bill will almost certainly fail and present Pelosi with a debacle on her number-one priority on the agenda.

Until now, we’ve assumed that Pelosi scheduled the vote because she knows she can get to 218.  Maybe she’s scheduling it now because this weekend will be the closest she can get to 218 — and hopes that her caucus doesn’t answer the phone or read the mail until Monday.