Short on Carrots

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi is famous for muscling her members in the last hours before a vote. She may pull that trick off again with health care, but the unusual nature of the bill presents new obstacles for the Pelosi method.

Normally, a House speaker can smooth over the concerns of balky members by promising to fix areas of concern in the conference committee that reconciles the House and Senate versions of a bill. But Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to skip a conference committee on health care, so the House must pass the Senate bill — unpopular with many members — with no changes at all. House members will just have to trust the Senate’s good faith in using the awkward “budget reconciliation” process later to change the now-law of the land to the House’s liking. “It’s a real concern with some members that the Senate won’t follow through,” Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, told me.


With fewer carrots, the Speaker and her allies are brandishing more sticks to corral the necessary votes. has been raising money to finance liberal challengers to vulnerable House Democrats who vote against the bill. Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, leader of pro-life House Democrats who oppose the Senate’s abortion funding language, tells Robert Costa of National Review that he has even been threatened with ethics complaints.

Likewise, the Service Employees International Union, which stands to gain many unionized members if health care passes, has also been active. New York Democrat Mike McMahon was visited by a top SEIU official and told that he won’t get union funding if he votes “no.” Indeed, union representatives hinted they might look for a primary challenger or third-party candidate to run in his Staten Island district.

Such threats may not be as effective as liberal interest groups hope. Mr. McMahon’s district voted for John McCain last year and Democrats know any last-minute primary challenger to Mr. McMahon would likely lose to a Republican in the fall, even if he or she succeeded in toppling the incumbent in the Democratic primary. Threats by and SEIU against many incumbents are also less than believable simply because the filing deadline to mount primary challenges has already passed for more than 40% of House seats. Meanwhile, the debate over health care has dragged on so long that many Democratic members are now clearly more worried about the impact on general election voters than on the party faithful.

‘John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’