Will Health Care Really Come Down to One Vote?

Outgoing Democratic Rep. Eric Massa spent the weekend giving a fiery rant about how he was being ousted from office. On a radio show in his New York district, Massa admitted that his intent not to seek reelection was tied to an inappropriate comment he made to a House aide at a cocktail party. From there, he says, House leadership circled like vultures, trying to get rid of him over his avowed “no” vote on health care. “Mine is now the deciding vote on the health-care bill,” Massa said. “This administration and this House leadership have said, 'they will stop at nothing to pass this health-care bill, and now they’ve gotten rid of me and it will pass."

Privately, Democratic House aides adamantly deny Massa’s claim that he’s being pushed out over his health-care opposition. Publicly, they’re content to stay away from Massa’s self-implosion. One staffer tells me that even if House leaders were out to get Massa (which they say they're not), they couldn’t possibly do more damage than Massa’s already doing to himself. This staffer supposes that Massa’s use of the “my vote is the deciding vote” claim is simply an attempt to rally the anger of the Fox News and tea-party crowds to make himself a martyr. And so he doesn’t leave office with an air of harassment allegations hanging over him.

But, Massa’s claim does raise a valid question of whether health-care reform passage in the House is hanging on one vote. The answer? No, it’s almost certainly not. Calculus at this point is a guarded secret, but some members have mused that the House tally that was “way short” a month ago hasn’t moved much in the past few weeks. If anything, support for the measure has lost ground.

Anyone in Washington familiar with Nancy Pelosi’s leadership style knows that she can twist an arm from time to time, especially on close and contentious votes. If the entire package really did hinge on one vote, there’s good reason to believe Pelosi would have zeroed in on liberals Dennis Kucinich of Ohio or Brian Baird of Washington, both of whom have claimed reticence to support the package unless it was beefed up. Other "no" voters could potentially be won over with a couple budget tweaks to throw a few goodies toward their districts. But Massa, for some time,  has seemed like more trouble than he's worth for Pelosi.

If Massa’s claim checks out, and his was the deciding vote, that means when he leaves Washington tonight, both chambers will move toward a vote by the end of the week. Will that happen? Few on the Hill are holding their breath.