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Take one for the team

"Take one for the team" Continued...

Issue: "Cities of God and Man," March 27, 2010

When a story circulated during the first week of March that Kratovil was undecided on his second healthcare vote, the National Republican Campaign Committee placed thousands of targeted phone calls to Kratovil's Eastern Shore district. By week's end Kratovil used GOP talking points to reassure voters that he would oppose the current healthcare bill.

"The way we are moving forward is perceived as all or nothing. I don't think it needs to be zero sum," Kratovil told the Capitol News Service, echoing the Republican refrain that healthcare is best tackled using a step-by-step approach.

"He is trying to protect his seat," says Diana Waterman, 48, who works for a real estate company in Kratovil's district. "If he votes in favor of this bill, it will be the last nail in his coffin."

Instead of orating about healthcare, Kratovil has been spending March touting a Republican-sounding small business tax relief proposal that he authored. Similar posturing by other Democratic freshmen suggests that Pelosi will find few takers here.

The McCain Democrats

Thirty-one of the 39 Democrats who voted no in November represent districts won by Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election-including Florida's Allen Boyd, interviewed near the Will Rogers statue. No word on whether Boyd repeated his TV camera healthcare backpedal ("Now, I didn't say that") later that same day when he was one of 31 Democrats invited to a private White House reception. No doubt arm-twisting occurred there as President Obama continues to look for a way to declare any healthcare victory.

Pelosi has publicly asked colleagues to vote for healthcare even if it jeopardizes their political careers. But the Democratic leadership's best Shakespearean "band of brothers" speeches have so far not rounded up even a "happy few" in the McCain districts willing to follow Pelosi's charge. Of course, the seats of Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are secure, while the same thing cannot be said for these McCain Democrats.

The Fiscal Conservatives

Most fiscally conservative Democrats, known as Blue Dogs, are refraining from going on the healthcare hunt. Of the 39 Democrats who voted against healthcare in November, 24 are Blue Dogs, who prefer cost containment measures to coverage expansion. Rep. Jim Marshall, a Blue Dog from Georgia, told Fox News this week that Obama's healthcare plan equals "continued explosive costs. We're bankrupting the country over this."

This concern is not just limited to Southern Blue Dogs: Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a South Dakota Democrat and leader of the Blue Dog coalition, told reporters she will "not vote for the Senate bill as is."

House members are being asked to vote for a Senate bill with the promise that some of its less palatable elements will be tenderized in a revised version that would then have to pass the Senate with just a simple majority. That means Blue Dogs would have to approve a bill that is loaded down with controversial, budget-busting kickbacks to states like Nebraska, Louisiana, and Florida.

"What they are asking House Democrats to do is to hold hands, jump off a cliff, and hope [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid catches them," explained Lamar Alexander, the Tennessean who is the Senate's third-ranking Republican.

"The Senate has given us a lot of reason not to trust them," Blue Dog Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., who is listed as a top prospect for switching his no vote, told Fox News Sunday.

The Retirees

Six House Democrats who opposed the healthcare bill in November are retiring this year. They are being pressured to change their votes as a legacy to their party since they no longer will have to face constituents.

Perhaps preparing for such a flip, one of these retirees, Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., released a statement praising Obama's revised plan as moving in a "more fiscally responsible direction." But another retiring Democrat, Rep. Brian Baird of Washington, told CNN that "I don't think this bill is what I would like to see us do."

Meanwhile, another exiting Democrat who voted for the overhaul, Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas, could switch to a no vote after he ripped the White House for marginalizing moderate Democrats during his retirement announcement.

The Heritage Foundation's House expert, Eric Heis, sees "more people going from a yes to a no than from no to yes. They are scared about losing their seats."

Of the Democrats who voted for the overhaul, 18 reside in districts won by McCain in 2008, and they are likely reconsidering their yes votes.

Forced to vote on a Senate healthcare bill that they have repeatedly blasted as inferior to their version, their armor may soon start to crack. And groups like pro-life Susan B. Anthony List (spending $500,000 for a three-week campaign) and the League of American Voters ($250,000 a week) are helping the fissure through a barrage of mailings, automated calls, and television and radio ads in Democratic districts. While no November yeses have yet announced a switch, at least one, Rep. Michael Arcuri of New York, is leaning toward voting no: "There would have to be some dramatic changes in it," he told the Utica, N.Y.-based Observer-Dispatch. Other yes lawmakers from North Dakota, Oregon, Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia have refused to commit when pressed by local media.

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