Behind-the-scenes on health care maneuvering: how Tim Walz is deciding, how lobbying pressures mount

Rep. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Rep. Tim Walz

WASHINGTON – Rep. Tim Walz was on the phone with officials from the Mayo Clinic Thursday morning, soliciting their input on the emerging details of the soon-to-be-released health care reconciliation bill. That afternoon, after the bill’s text had been posted, he checked back with Mayo again – one of many calls the second-term Democrat would make and receive in an effort to come to a final decision on just which way he’ll vote.

“We’ll talk to Winona Health, we’ll talk to the Mayo Clinic, the nurses association, some of my friends, doctors that are outside the Mayo, you know, just to say what do you think?” Walz said. The question in his mind, he said, is not whether health reform is a good idea or not — he said it is — but whether the details of the bill work for his district.

Just after lunchtime, Walz entered a packed meeting led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to talk about how the value index in the bill — a plan to rework Medicare reimbursement formula so it rewards high-quality, low-cost health providers like Mayo — would work.

Such is the life of a Democratic member still not officially in the Yes column. The clock is ticking — we’re now less than 72 hours before Sunday afternoon’s scheduled health care vote, when Walz and Jim Oberstar will be asked by Democratic leaders to hold fast to their yes vote on the House health care bill and vote the same way this time. Both are still leaning yes. Both are key to the bill’s passage.

The Democratic whip count sits on a knife’s edge. Leaders acknowledge they don’t have the votes right now but are optimistic they will by Sunday afternoon, when Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters they would vote. The vote will come on the weekend because Democrats said they will honor a pledge to vote no earlier than 72 hours after the text of the bill was posted online. That happened early Thursday afternoon. The House is scheduled to meet at noon CDT, and the earliest they could vote is about 1:10 p.m.

President Obama has postponed his Indonesia/Australia trip until June in order to secure votes up to the last minute and sign any legislation that may emerge. In a statement, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president “greatly regrets” delaying the trip but added that “passage of health insurance reform is of paramount importance, and the president is determined to see this battle through.”

All the while the pressure mounts.

Rush Limbaugh, on his radio show Thursday, encouraged Minnesotans to flood Oberstar’s office with phone calls, saying he’s “in the anti-abortion group that’s going to still vote for taxpayer-funded abortions.”  “You can call 14 times each hour if you want!” he exclaimed to a Gopher State caller.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent a letter (PDF) to the entire Minnesota delegation Thursday asking them to oppose the current health care bill.

“I am hopeful that the U.S. House will defeat the current bloated, expensive, government-centric health care proposal and instead work in a truly bipartisan manner to enact much-needed health care reforms that are market-driven, patient-centered, and quality-focused.”

Democrats were able to survive a challenge to an expected rule that will allow them to use the so-called “Slaughter Solution” — to approve health reform in one big package, directly approving the “fix” language to the Senate’s health care bill outlined by Obama while “deeming” the Senate’s already-passed bill to be approved. The Senate would still have to pass the fix (which is contained in a larger, 153-page reconciliation bill) later, but that’s another battle for another day.

Democrats held on to 222 votes to beat back a GOP challenge to the Slaughter Solution, in what could be seen as a test vote for health reform. Later in the day, Dems also turned away a resolution to formally disapprove the use of the parliamentary tactic.

“We’re gonna pass it,” Keith Ellison, looking ahead to Sunday’s vote. “Procedure’s not the issue. Doing something about pre-existing conditions is the issue. You know, the procedure’s not the issue, doing something about rescissions is the issue.”

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/19/2010 - 12:06 pm.

    I think Tim’s a pretty decent guy; but he’s toast if he votes yes.

  2. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 03/19/2010 - 12:25 pm.

    Tim Walz is already an EX Congressman. The GOP could defeat him with Attila the Hun as a candidate. Walzing with Pelosi on this death care bill will not be tolerated by Minnesota farmers and citizens of a Republic.

    Already in Texas, the second largest county of Democrats in the country around Houston, in the 22nd CD, a black woman won the DEMOCRATIC primary on a campaign of IMPEACH OBAMA in a three way race, gaining 53% of the vote.

  3. Submitted by Clare LaFond on 03/19/2010 - 01:09 pm.

    Our elected representatives have two hats to wear as they face this vote — certainly, one is for the district that elected them, and the other is for the country as a whole — rich and poor, of all faiths, color, and circumstances. On issues of nationwide impact, it is not enough to serve only the district that votes to keep them in office.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/19/2010 - 01:28 pm.

    On what planet is there:
    1. a “death care bill”.
    2. A Republic of Minnesota?
    and note that Rogers calls herself “a LaRouche Democrat”. In other words, 22nd CD is so heavily Republican that no serious Democrat was interested in the race, leaving it open for the wingnuts (as one commentator described her).

    The 1st CD in Minnesota (I live there; do you?) is a swing district that has elected both Democrats and Republicans in the past 40 years.

    Historical note: Rep. Tom Hagedorn (from what is now the 1st CD) was characterized as being somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun.

  5. Submitted by Dave Thul on 03/19/2010 - 01:58 pm.

    Rep Walz promised unequivocally at the town hall in Mankato that he would not vote for any bill that contained federal funding for abortion or was not deficit neutral. He will be breaking both of those promises with a ‘yes’ vote this weekend.

    A couple of weeks from now, when Democrats in the Senate decide not to pass the changes the House requested, we will be stuck with the current Senate bill. Then Walz will have to try to explain how his yes vote on deem and pass wasn’t really a yes vote, or how the Senate tricked him into voting for something he promised he never would.

  6. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/19/2010 - 03:19 pm.

    I agrre that Walz seems a pretty decent guy and assume that if he promised not to vote for a bill that provides federal funding for abortion and decides to vote for the bill on Sunday, it will be because he does not believe the bill does provide federal funding for abortion. So far as I have found in my reading on the subject there is no express provision for or against such funding.

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/19/2010 - 05:05 pm.

    If anything, the proposed legislation is slightly more restrictive than the current situation.
    And of course the CBO has found the legislation to most likely cause a slight reduction in the deficit.
    So, those who chose to doubt these facts are not likely to vote for Walz under any circumstances.

  8. Submitted by Paul Scott on 03/19/2010 - 05:50 pm.

    Walz, my representative, is anything but “toast” next fall, and he isn’t the kind of pol who decides how to vote based on what lies ahead on November anyway.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/19/2010 - 08:52 pm.

    The congressman will be re-elected whether or not he chooses to support this piece of legislation. His record of service to the Nation and Minnesota speaks for itself.

    There is a lot of undeserved criticism about this legislation. Detractors say it is not complete. I’d like to point out that the US Constitution was not complete either when it was signed. There was a promise of more, and it was fulfilled with the Bill of Rights. It remains a seminal document that led to the freedoms we enjoy today, and over time, we made it better.

    This health care bill is not perfect either, but it is how we come together as a nation. The future will get better provided we make the necessary compromises now.

  10. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/20/2010 - 10:54 am.

    Well said!

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