But the political incentives for the 138 Democratic members who represent districts where the health care bills are unpopular are entirely different. What we are seeing is something like an irresistible force (a highly skillful leadership) meeting an immovable object (public opinion in most Democratic districts). One or the other will give.
For many Democratic members -- especially the 37 Democrats who voted no last November -- the best thing to happen is for the bill not to come to a vote on the floor and just go away. Party leaders don't like to bring a bill to the floor without having a majority of votes in hand. They may bring a tough bill to the floor when they are five or six votes short, in the hope of squeezing them out during the roll call.
It can be an ugly process. The House Republican leadership brought up the Medicare prescription drug bill in December 2003 when they were short a half dozen votes or so. They had to extend the 15-minute roll call to nearly three hours before they got their majority.
My sense is that the current Democratic leadership is at least 10 votes short of the 216-vote majority. So far, of the 37 November no votes, only Dennis Kucinich has publicly committed to voting yes. And some of the yeses, like Bart Stupak, sponsor of the abortion-funding ban in the House bill, are committed noes.
All of which explains why House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn told McClatchy Newspapers that the bill may be delayed till Easter or even after. He's telling the Democrats who are trying to make the bill just go away by refusing to commit to vote yes that party leaders will insist on a vote. But he's also confessing that they still don't have enough votes to go to the floor.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted confidently last weekend that the bill would pass this week. Maybe not.