WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jim Oberstar has his poker face on.
“As Jim moved up the seniority ladder, he learned that there are some times you clearly announce how you’re going to vote and some times you play your cards closer to the vest,” said spokesman John Schadl. “He’s holding out to get the best deal for Minnesota.”
The cards he’s holding show how Oberstar will ultimately vote on compromise health legislation — the Senate’s health care bill, followed by a legislative “fix” bill, a broad outline of which was released by the White House last week.
Oberstar wants what most in the Minnesota delegation want, more favorable provider reimbursement rates from federal insurance programs like Medicare.
“If you commit yourself one way or the other, it takes you out of the debate as the final negotiations are going forward.”
It’s important to note that Oberstar did back the House health care bill, which contained far more restrictive language on abortions than is in the Senate’s bill. That amendment was seen as key to attracting the support of pro-life Democrats like Oberstar.
“Jim has concerns about the [abortion] language in the Senate bill, again there are a number of concerns that he’d want to see addressed one way or the other,” Schadl said.
Schadl said Oberstar would like to see health reform passed by Easter, but added “we’re going to make sure that if we pass it we pass it right — we’re not going to rush something through just to meet a deadline.”
The fight for votes is intense. Democrats need 216 votes to pass a bill. There are only 216 Democrats in Congress who voted for the House’s health care bill last time, and every Republican is openly opposed to the legislation.
Winning votes from Democrats who opposed the House’s bill won’t be easy either. Rep. Collin Peterson, the only Minnesota Democrat to oppose the House health care bill, plans to vote no on the new version as well.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a press conference today, told reporters she believes she’ll get the votes to pass a health reform bill.
“I feel very confident that the up or down vote on the majority rule proposal that will come to the House will satisfy Members’ concerns about the Senate bill,” Pelosi said.
House Minority Leader John Boehner isn’t so sure about that.
“How many Democrats are going to side with the speaker over their constituents?” asked Boehner. “My point here is, this debate is far from over. Republicans are going to continue to stand with the American people against this job- killing massive government takeover of our health-care system.”