Has Obama Made Health Care Reform Too Big to Fail?

Republican candidates will run hard against the undecided Democrats in November, whether these members vote for or against the bill. Only the constituents in each district have leverage with their representatives, which is why polls showing a majority or plurality of Americans opposed to the bill (not only nationally, but in every district of every undecided congressman) are what have kept some of them from taking the plunge and agreeing to vote yes. The undecided Democrats are in a position not unlike the pledges in the rich guy's Omega fraternity on pledge initiation night in the movie Animal House, with the vicious pledge master Niedermeyer ferociously paddling their backside and the pledges repeating: “Thank you, sir! May I have another?”

So what is the gain to go with the pain for these last few votes (a likely defeat in November for those who vote yes)? Here is where the bribe part matters. Much as the administration tried to “persuade” Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak to leave the race against party switcher (and 60th vote for health care reform in the Senate) Arlen Specter  with a job offer to be secretary of the Navy, congressmen who walk the plank and vote yes will be offered future jobs if they lose in November.

These plums will be in the administration or in think tanks such as the Center for American Progress (George Soros can direct a few million more to CAP to pay the salaries). "Correct" voters might also be assured high-paying lobbying jobs. Tom Daschle, defeated in a reelection run for the Senate in 2004, can tell the members just how lucrative a career in lobbying can be .

So where is the vote count today? The two most serious attempts to count the votes are by the theHill.com and David Dayen of Firedoglake.com. Dayen separates committed yes or no votes from leaners and undecideds. While the major media have been broadcasting all week about the  momentum for the administration and Pelosi, Dayen’s count has become less favorable on the chances of passage the last few days. At the beginning of the week, his net count was 205-209 and then 208-208. Today it is 207-212. That would mean Pelosi must pick off nine of the 14 undecided members. But Dayen says the hard count is 201-209, suggesting that including leaners with undecideds, Pelosi must win 15 of 21 remaining wavering members.

TheHill.com’s whip count has had roughly the same number of Democrats in the firm no, leaning no, or likely no category all week -- 36. Added to 178 Republicans, that means the no side would be at 214 and need only two from the 47 listed as undecided to kill the bill in the House. But the 36 in the no category are not all hard nos. Some have gone public in opposition to the Senate bill, but might vote for the Slaughter approach. Others are leaners. The 47 undecideds include some who Dayen includes as firm yes or leaning yes. I think Dayen’s count is closer to the current reality.  Many of the 47 “undecideds” in theHill.com count are likely to commit to yes in the next few days.

If Pelosi can get her number to 210 or above, then I think she will get to 216. No Democrat wants to be the one identified as the last vote to kill the bill. The SEIU enforcers might ensure that that member would need security for  the remainder of his or her term in office.

On the other hand, if the undecideds do not  start to crumble one by one, then many of the lean yes as well as most of the undecideds may vote no in the end. In essence, Pelsoi will win small or lose big. Winning small (by 216-215 or 217-214) is ideal for  her side, since it means the maximum number of Democrats will be able to vote no and perhaps improve their chances of holding their seats.

Over the last few days, the Stupak pro-life bloc has started to crater after a fig leaf was offered by a few dozen nuns on Thursday to support the bill. In the end, moderate Democrats will vote to protect themselves (and vote no) or protect Obama (and vote yes).

If the math for self-preservation and winning in November was between 60% with a no vote and 40% with a yes vote, then I think the undecided Democrats might resist the president’s overtures. My guess is that many of the moderate Democrats believe they are  doomed regardless (say a 40% chance of winning if they vote no, 30% or less if they vote yes). In that case, the lure of future employment and making fellow Democrats and the president happy will win out.

If members voted their conscience, without pressure, I think the bill would get barely over 150 votes. It is an extremely expensive new entitlement that does almost nothing to curb the cost explosion in health care, and is financed by smoke and mirrors at a time when annual federal  deficits are running $1.5 trillion a year for three years running, or more than 10% of GDP. It is the height of irresponsibility for Congress to have created a large new middle class entitlement in such an environment, when the nation is  clamoring for jobs, not a massive health-care overhaul. But the liberals in Congress and the president, who is their BFF soulmate, seem obsessed with passing this very bad bill now.

I hope I am wrong, but I think the odds slightly favor passage (not 80%, maybe 60%). To ease the pain, I will watch more of my picks go down in the NCAA tournament on Sunday.