Does Obama Have the Votes for Health Care Reform?

Last Thursday, Barack Obama tried to convince the members of the IOC that Chicago deserved the 2016 Olympics. He failed miserably, as Chicago was eliminated on the first ballot, a humiliating defeat for Obama personally and the United States. So much for the new love of America overseas.

Now the president is back to home turf, where the numbers in the Senate and the House continue to favor passage of the president’s key domestic priority this year: a health care reform bill. The key numbers are these: the Democrats have a near 80-vote margin in the House and a 60-40 hold on the Senate, including the two independents who tend to vote with the Democrats. The attainment of the filibuster-proof majority in the Senate owes to the circus act just performed in Massachusetts, where the legislature and the governor  agreed to change the law for the second time in five years on how to fill a Senate vacancy.

Paul Kirk, the new senator for four months, provides the 6oth Democratic vote during the period when a health care form bill is expected to be considered in the Senate. At this point the Democrats do not need a single Republican in either body of Congress to pass the health care reform bill. So what could go wrong for the administration?

My own assessment of how the bill progresses through Congress goes like this:

In the House, three committees have already approved a bill that includes a public insurance option, which would create a new federal program that would compete with private insurers for the business of individuals and small businesses. Each bill is priced at more than $1 trillion over 10 years and relies on higher taxes on the wealthy to finance a substantial part of the price tag.

The bill that will come out of the House will look just like the bills from the three committees and is troubling for the 52 Blue Dogs and other Democrats in vulnerable seats (84 members hold seats in districts won by either Bush or McCain in 2004 and 2008). Much as with the House cap-and-trade bill, when over 40 Democrats voted no, my guess is that close to 40 Democrats will vote no on the House bill, enabling them to say to constituents that they opposed the public option and higher taxes. But the bill will pass the House narrowly.