We are down to handfuls of House Democrats who will decide the fate of ObamaCare. One usually expects in these situations that House leaders have enough enticements and threats to garner the last few votes. But in this case, we’re talking about members in swing districts, the ones most at risk in November and the most wary of the Pelosi-Obama-Reid call to pass the liberals’ decades-old pipe dream of national health care. As John Fund notes, some of the usual tactics fall on deaf ears:
New York Democrat Mike McMahon was visited by a top SEIU official and told that he won’t get union funding if he votes “no.” Indeed, union representatives hinted they might look for a primary challenger or third-party candidate to run in his Staten Island district.
Such threats may not be as effective as liberal interest groups hope. Mr. McMahon’s district voted for John McCain last year and Democrats know any last-minute primary challenger to Mr. McMahon would likely lose to a Republican in the fall, even if he or she succeeded in toppling the incumbent in the Democratic primary. Threats by MoveOn.org and SEIU against many incumbents are also less than believable simply because the filing deadline to mount primary challenges has already passed for more than 40% of House seats. Meanwhile, the debate over health care has dragged on so long that many Democratic members are now clearly more worried about the impact on general election voters than on the party faithful.
So for now, the various Democratic whip counts look to be short of a majority and perilously close to the maximum number of defections. After all, the Democratic leadership is short on both substantive (do any wavering Democrats believe it’s deficit neutral?) and political arguments (these are the members with many Republicans and angry independents ready to pounce). This isn’t to say Pelosi can’t get there, but it sure is proving harder than many imagined when this all began. But then again, the bill is much worse than many imagined.
You get the sense Obama is in quite a fix. Politico runs two stories headlined: “Dems grouse as Obama tacks to center” and “Big bang takes toll on moderates.” So on one hand, liberals are annoyed with Obama’s promising a spending freeze (albeit, an itty-bitty one). And they are also peeved about Obama’s proposal to give businesses tax credits. But then the moderates are freaking out:
If the first year of Obama’s term was dominated by the so-called Big Bang push for enormous, politically risky initiatives — the stimulus, cap and trade and health care — Year Two is fast shaping up to be year of small ball, retrenchment and backlash.
“I’ve always maintained that I thought that they were doing too much, too fast,” said Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.), an endangered freshman who represents a Staten Island district long occupied by Republicans.
“Without question, the biggest complaint I’m hearing from constituents is that there were too many things being tackled all at once, and they didn’t have time to understand and digest all of them,” he added.
Democrats are realizing that they have angered a great many voters with scary big-government proposals but have little to show for it. And Blue Dog Rep. Dennis Cardoza would like to turn back the clock: “Everyone was talking about spending capital — now I think we wish we had some of that capital back. You build confidence by passing legislation that people understand and work that way. I still believe in the president, but you can’t be everything to all folks.” It seems suddenly Obama isn’t offering much of anything to anyone within his party.
Part of the problem stems from the lack of direction given to Congress. Al Franken finds nothing funny in the Obami’s meandering. He was reported to have ripped into David Axelrod “for the administration’s failure to provide clarity or direction on health care and other big bills.” Perhaps if Democrats’ own congressional leaders were more effective, the lack of direction from the White House would not be so disconcerting. But Democrats have seen what happens when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are left to their own devices. You can understand why they are miffed that the White House hasn’t left a legislative road map for them to follow.
And part of the issue is fear that the leader of their party is playing into a destructive and familiar narrative, namely that the Democrats are the “tax-and-spend” and “weak on national security” party. On both, you see nervous Democrats are beginning to push back on everything from anti-terror policies to the new budget.
Obama and his congressional allies may well get their act together. But they’d better hurry. There are not that many months left to legislate and come up with something that incumbents can credibly tout to voters. And worse, persistent infighting and dissention will only depress their base further and convince ordinary voters these people simply aren’t up to the task of governing.