Sunday, November 8, 2009

The 39

I'm suddenly hearing all sorts of lefty criticism for the 39 House Democrats who voted against the health reform bill last night. A few quick points:
  • The bill would be no better off with 259 aye votes instead of 220. It would still be the same bill today and it still would have passed. Legislation doesn't get bonus points for large margins.
  • Think about what would have been necessary to get those 39 votes. For example, Betsy Markey (D - Ft. Collins), who represents a somewhat right-leaning district, voted against it. What would it have taken to get her on board? Well, maybe she could have been bought off with some pork. Maybe the legislation could have been moderated in some way. Doing these things would have made the bill more expensive and possibly worse, with no positive benefit on the voting outcome other than a larger victory margin, which wouldn't have mattered.
  • It's in Democrats' interests not to make folks like Betsy Markey take stances that piss off her constituents. It will be hard for her to hold her district next year anyway; that task will only be harder if she has to cast unpopular votes on high salience issues like health reform. As Bernstein points out, the best situation for someone in Markey's position is to vote against the bill but still have it pass -- she doesn't have to take the unpopular stance, but she still gets the benefit of belonging to a party that looks like it can get things done.
Pelosi had a choice -- keep the Democratic caucus unified by pushing watered-down legislation, or push more liberal legislation with just enough votes for passage, letting the rest of the caucus vote their districts. Pelosi's decision to go the latter route strikes me as pretty smart.


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, though, do you think that better party discipline would have averted the need for the hideous Stupak amendment in order to get it passed?

Or would those 64 Democrats from conservative districts (assuming they are mostly like Markey) have been anti-choice as well?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant the 39 Democrats who voted the bill, but my anger with the 64 Democrats apparently prevents me from writing coherently.

Seth Masket said...

I wish I knew more about the specifics of the legislature procedure here to answer your questions. I know that 26 of the 39 Democrats who voted no on the bill supported the Stupak amendment. As Lemieux said, they are "on the record as opposing expanded access to health care but who want to make sure that if health care passes despite them it should discriminate against women."