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We no longer have the votes to pass healthcare, Barney Frank reportedly says

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After posts suggesting that local constituents contact Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) about his comments on the prospects of the Democrats’ healthcare bill, the powerful Massachusetts congressman has purportedly told callers his party doesn’t have the votes in the House to ensure passage.

“I live in Barney Frank’s district, and I called his office this morning,” one constituent reportedly emailed Talking Points Memo. “To my surprise, he took my call and I asked him why on earth couldn’t the House simply pass the Senate version of the health care bill. He told me straight up that the votes weren’t there to pass the Senate bill. He said that labor is totally against it, the abortion caucus is against it, and more than a few progressives were against it.”

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“I asked him about Democrats’ prospects in the 2010 election if they don’t get something done on health care,” the caller reportedly added. “He told me it would be worse electorally for Democrats if they passed the bill versus dropping it and facing voters having done nothing. I told him I disagreed with him on that point, but I suppose he knows more about this stuff than I do. I hope.”

A second caller, from Norton, MA, allegedly believed from Frank’s comments that the healthcare bill is now effectively doomed.

Frank is also reported to have suggested that the Democrats’ best hope is again Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) — emphasis ours.

I just called his office in DC and expressed my displeasure with his statement released last night especially the line “But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened.” I told him I didn’t think we lost this election because of it was a Health Care Reform referendum but because we had a very weak Senate candidate. He agreed she did a lousy job campaigning. I told him we should just pass the Senate HCR and be done. He stated that all that would do was rile up the electorate and guarantee our further losses in November. I told him that caving in to Republican foot-dragging would kill the bill and we would not have HCR for another 15 years. He thought our best route was to try to get Snowe to come aboard with a revised Senate bill. I told him that was ridiculous, that the Republicans were emboldened by this win and I was incredulous that he thought there was any chance of getting even one Republican vote to make this bipartisan.

Barney Frank insisted to me that there was not the vote in the House now to pass the Senate HCR. I asked him personally if he would vote to pass the Senate HCR as it stands and get it on Obama’s desk. He said he would not vote yes on the Senate bill. He cited the abortion and plan tax portions of the bill for his opposition. He thought the Democrats were headed for heavy losses if they didn’t drop the current HCR and try to pass some revised version. I told him if they didn’t pass the Senate HCR now the November defeat would be guaranteed and much worse because you would lose the progressives and nothing Barney Frank would do or say could convince the right to not vote against us. He was firm in his belief and I found his argument very unconvincing.

I got the impression that HCR is now doomed and his alternative to fix it and pass it did not seem feasible. I told him the public is sick and tired hearing about health care and that we should pass the Senate HCR, have Obama sign it tomorrow, and then spend from now to the election passing a jobs bill and doing financial reform. I told him the public will only remember that in November and will have moved on from HCR. I said the electorate is always distracted by the next shiny object they see and would forget HCR and remember last good bill you passed, but he replied he thought the public had more intelligence than I thought they had. We ended the call in total disagreement on his assessment, his plan on how to proceed on HCR, and is refusal to vote personally for the Senate HCR.

Frank’s alleged contention to callers gibes with his statement released just after Brown’s victory Tuesday night. “I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results.”

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He also suggested a Republican might need to come on board, as he reportedly told the caller.

“But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the Senate, that approach is no longer appropriate,” he said. “I am hopeful that some Republican senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of healthcare reform.”

Frank is apparently not the only Congressman who seems to believe the Senate health bill cannot pass the House. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told Salon on Wednesday that “it’s going to be difficult to round up a majority” in the House for the upper chamber’s template.

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Grijalva strongly vouched for the budget reconciliation process, which would allow health reform — albeit a different version than now exists — to pass through the Senate with a simple 51-vote majority.

Frank’s contention that House Democrats don’t have the votes to pass the Senate’s healthcare bill isn’t his first foray into controversial healthcare comments.

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At a lively two-hour health care town hall meeting in August, Frank was faced with an angry woman opposed to health care reform who compared health care proposals favored by Frank and President Obama to policies of Nazi Germany.

“When you ask me that question, I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?” Frank asked.

“You stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis,” he said, adding such behavior demonstrated the strength of First Amendment guarantees of what he called “contemptible” free speech.

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“Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table,” Frank said to the woman. “I have no interest in doing it.”

With additional reporting by Diana Sweet and Sahil Kapur.


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