Thursday is the day things tend to come to a boil on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress have been in town for three or four days; they're planning their exits on Friday to meet other commitments; they've had a chance to talk and meet with one another and sample the moods of their colleagues.
This month, Thursdays have been very bad days for the Obama administration's attempt to pass health care bills concocted by House and Senate committee chairmen.
On the first Thursday after Congress got back in session, July 9, 40 members of the Democratic Blue Dogs caucus sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter opposing any health care bill that would increase the federal deficit, fail to reform delivery systems, and not protect small businesses and rural health providers. Signers included two committee chairmen. The House bill, they wrote, "lacks a number of elements essential to preserving what works and fixing what is broken."
On the next Thursday, July 16, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf addressed those concerns in testimony on the Hill. He reiterated the CBO's conclusion that the Democratic bills would increase the federal deficit, by something on the order of a trillion dollars over 10 years. And, no, the Democratic bills would not "bend the cost curve" -- i.e., would not reform the delivery systems in ways that would cut costs. Pelosi and Barack Obama insisted, in foot-stamping mode, that their bills would really, really cut costs.
That same day, freshman Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, Colo., sent Pelosi a letter signed by 21 House freshmen and one sophomore opposing the increased taxes on high earners imposed by the two House committee bills. "Especially in a recession," the letter read, "we need to make sure not to kill the goose that will lay the golden eggs of our recovery."
There are 256 Democrats in the House, with one vacant Democratic seat. Only five Democrats signed both the Blue Dogs' and Polis' letters. That means that 57 Democrats signed one letter or the other, pledging to oppose central features of the Democratic health care bills. Few, if any, Republicans are expected to support either bill. You do the math. The Democratic leadership seems well short of the 218 votes needed for a majority on the floor. No wonder House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said it's time "to go back to the drawing board."
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