The circuitous road to 216

THE CIRCUITOUS ROAD TO 216…. Everyone close to the debate over health care reform is asking the same question: will Pelosi get the votes or not? It’s very likely we won’t know for sure until the vote is very near — you’ll recall, in November, that the outcome was in doubt the morning the bill was headed to the floor — but head counts have quickly become an exciting new parlor game for the whole family.

By most scenarios, reform will need some Democrats who voted against reform in November to rejoin the majority on the final bill. The Associated Press worked the phones yesterday and found nine Dems who “have not ruled out switching their ‘no’ votes to ‘yes.'”

The House version of health care passed 220-215 in November, with 39 Democrats voting against it. Since then, defections, resignations and a death have taken away yes votes.

With four House seats now vacant, Pelosi would need 216 votes to approve the Senate-passed version, which replaces the jettisoned House bill. That’s exactly the number she has now if no other members switch their votes.

In interviews with the AP, at least nine of the 39 Democrats — or their spokesmen — either declined to state their positions or said they were undecided about the revised legislation, making them likely targets for intense wooing by Pelosi and Obama. Three of them — Brian Baird of Washington, Bart Gordon of Tennessee and John Tanner of Tennessee — are not seeking re-election this fall.

The others are Rick Boucher of Virginia, Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Michael McMahon of New York, Scott Murphy of New York and Glenn Nye of Virginia.

This is not to say that there are only nine “nay” votes open to supporting the final package — some offices did not respond to AP inquiries — but these are the Dems who are at least open to persuasion.

Of course, “not ruling out” support is hardly the same thing as “support.” In the end, all of these nine may decide to vote with Republicans to kill the bill; we just don’t know. But the fact that there are still votes in play suggests reform stands a fighting chance — and having these lawmakers acknowledge on the record that they’re willing to consider the bill lets Democratic leaders know who to reach out to first.

We also don’t know, by the way, how may Dems, if any, who voted for the bill in November will get cold feet and reverse course now. Based on arithmetic, the number of supporters who switch will have to be outnumbered by the number of opponents who switch, or getting to 216 will be impossible.

Regardless, the process is starting to heat up again. President Obama’s roadmap, which will be presented tomorrow, will have an opportunity to make an enormous difference on the outcome.