Politics & Government

2 Washington state Democrats remain undecided on health care vote

WASHINGTON — With a climactic vote on health care legislation expected in the House of Representatives late this week, two Democratic members from Washington state — Adam Smith and Brian Baird — remain undecided on how to vote.

Smith voted for an earlier version of the bill. Baird did not.

As House Democratic leaders and the White House scrambled Monday to secure the 216 votes needed to pass health care legislation, Smith said that while there might be a lot of good things in the measure, "I have not made up my mind."

Baird, who is not seeking re-election, said he needed to see the actual language in the bill and an accompanying reconciliation bill before he would decide.

"Until I am able to read the new proposal and know the costs, I will not decide on how to vote on passage," Baird said. "To do so would contradict what I have stood for throughout my congressional career."

Democratic leaders were optimistic they would secure the votes they need, but they conceded they didn't have them yet. Baird is one of four Democrats who voted against the original bill they hope to flip.

"That's four people right there who voted no before," House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., told McClatchy last week. "Why don't we talk about them? Everyone's talking about who we might lose."

Baird hinted that the latest version of the bill might be more to his liking.

"The legislation that is currently being discussed in the House of Representatives is far different from the bill I voted on in November 2009," Baird said in a statement released late Friday. Baird has not been available for an interview despite several requests.

Last year, the House approved its version of the bill by five votes, 220-215, with 39 Democrats opposing the measure. On Christmas Eve, the Senate passed its bill.

The fate of the health care overhaul has been uncertain since a Republican won a special Senate election in Massachusetts, leaving Democrats one vote shy of the 60 needed to overcome filibusters.

Even though the Senate-passed bill was less than popular with House Democrats, their leaders want them to approve it without changes. Then the two chambers would use a reconciliation bill to make changes that House Democrats have insisted on. It will only take 51 votes to get the reconciliation bill through the Senate.

In an interview, Smith said he'd found a "lot of good things" in the Senate bill, including that it was less expensive than the House bill, had better cost containment, was more manageable and didn't take a major a whack out of Medicare Advantage.

But Smith said the changes anticipated in the reconciliation bill could drive up costs.

A leader of moderate Democrats in the House, Smith was among those invited to the White House last week for a session with President Barack Obama.

"It's possible I vote for the Senate bill and against reconciliation," Smith said.

Smith said he wasn't bothered by Republican criticism that Democrats were using parliamentary maneuvers to pass a health care bill.

"We have not rushed this through," Smith said, adding that the reconciliation process had been used 22 times before, including the vote to pass the tax cuts sought by then President George W. Bush.