As the Capitol reacts to the death of Jack Murtha and remembers his legacy, it’s worth pointing out that the news will make it even harder for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to secure the 218 votes needed to pass health care legislation.
Back in November, the House passed its health care bill by a narrow 220 to 215 margin, with 39 Democrats voting against it. Since then, the one Republican who voted for it — Joseph Cao — has indicated that he would not support the bill a second time around given the weaker language on abortion in the Senate version. In addition, Florida Rep. Robert Wexler already retired prematurely. Factor in Murtha’s death today, and Pelosi is down to 217 votes. This doesn’t even take into account the pro-life Democrats led by Bart Stupak who are prepared to vote “no.” While there’s been talk that Pelosi had some votes in reserve the first time around, the point is that those members felt they needed to vote against the bill — and the political environment has deteriorated substantially for Democrats since then.
With Murtha’s death, the Cook Political Report has now moved his Pennsylvania district to the “toss up” category. If Republicans can field a good candidate and gain the seat, it would further reinforce the fears among Democrats in swing districts and make them less likely to jump on board with Pelosi. Chris Cillizza suggests the most likely date for the special election would be May 18. The special election to replace Wexler is scheduled for April 13, and is expected to go Democrat.
UPDATE: Another complicating factor is Rep. Neil Abercrombie. The Hawaii Democrat announced early last month that he would resign Feb. 28 run for governor. However, in his statement announcing his resignation, he said that he had ensured Pelosi that he’d be around to continue supporting the health care bill. Back when he made that statement, Scott Brown hadn’t won yet, and thus the end of this month seemed like plenty of time to finalize the health care bill. Now that the timeline has been pushed back, perhaps he’d postpone the effective date of his resignation if Pelosi still needed his vote.
UPDATE II: An earlier version of this post suggested that Democrats would be unable to pass the bill with 217 votes, but as a reader points out there’s still the theoretical chance of passing it 217-216. So I changed the wording.