Looking for votes in the House

LOOKING FOR VOTES IN THE HOUSE…. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she intended to move forward on a health care reform bill with a robust public option. She asked House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to start canvassing the caucus, getting firm answers from every member on whether they’re prepared to vote for the bill.

Yesterday, the leadership got a better sense of where the caucus stands. The news wasn’t necessarily encouraging.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) drive for a public option in healthcare reform ran into turbulence Thursday when a survey of her caucus showed she needs more votes to pass such a bill.

The survey ordered by Pelosi turned up 46 Democrats who said they would vote against the so-called “robust” public option, according to a Democratic lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Given the arithmetic, 46 is too many. There are 256 House Democrats, and it takes 218 to pass a bill. That gives Pelosi some room to maneuver, but if 39 Dems break ranks and oppose the bill, reform dies.

With that in mind, the two chambers are looking at similar points from different directions. In the Senate, leaders seem to be moving from no public option towards the opt-out compromise. In the House, leaders may be moving from a robust public option towards some kind of compromise.

One possibility is changing the nature of reimbursement rates, towards the “negotiated rates” option, but the problem with that is it costs more and would push the overall price tag over $900 billion.

There’s likely to be some movement today. The House caucus meets this morning, and the leadership may make a decision today on how to proceed. Pelosi doesn’t intend to waste too much time going forward — the Speaker wants to unveil a bill next week, and hold a floor vote in early November. The goal, according to several sources, is to pass a bill before Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

I don’t want to characterize this as trouble in the House, because that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, some of the 46 Dems who aren’t on board with the plan have objections that have nothing to do with the public option, and leaders still expect to iron out the wrinkles and put together a majority.

At this point, it’s just a matter of threading a needle.

Update: According to the Speaker’s office, reports on the death of a robust public option in the House are premature, and talks continue.