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Showdown Sunday: healthcare, deficits, arm-twisting and the future of the Democratic Party

March 18, 2010 | 10:16 am

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and California's George Miller after House passage of the health care bill in November 2009

House Majority Whip James Clyburn pronounced Democratic leaders "absolutely giddy." The Congressional Budget Office  released its "score" of how much President Obama's healthcare bill would cost and the news contained several nuggets of promise for Democrats.

First, the cost tag was less than the $1 trillion they had feared, robbing Republicans of a sound-bite criticism.

Second, Democrats say the CBO projects the bill would cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next two decades, giving Democrats plenty of talking points on the campaign trail. Already, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is pitching healthcare reform as the biggest deficit reducing opportunity on which any lawmaker will ever have the opportunity to vote.

And finally, the estimate allowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to unveil the bill Thursday -- starting a 72-hour clock toward a vote at high noon Sunday, part of the Democrats effort at transparency.

"They say a picture is worth 1,000 words," Pelosi said. "A number is worth a lot too. I love numbers."

You could see the joy in her face. These numbers are manna for her maneuvering to get the last few votes, reportedly five, that she needs in the House. As Republicans threaten to derail the process in every way they can, Obama is also engaged, hoping to provide the tipping point. As the showdown nears, individual lawmakers can expect to feel the heat.

And the 40 House members who voted for a stringent anti-abortion amendment last fall will be lobbied hard to swallow the Senate version, which is not as explicit in banning federal funding. The controversy is roiling passions, pitting Catholic bishops, who are urging a no vote, against Catholic nuns, who think it should pass.

Michigan's Bart Stupak knows first-hand the animosity stirred by the issue. The author of the House amendment banning federal funding, Stupak said recently he has been assaulted by angry voters, most of them not even constituents. He calls it "a living hell."

"You get cussed out wherever you go," he said, noting his staff was overwhelmed by more than 1,500 faxes and e-mails, most from outside his district. “All the phones are unplugged at our house," he told The Hill, adding that his wife is "tired of the obscene calls and threats. She won’t watch TV." Noting that some voters have threatened to spit on him, Stupak wondered if public civility would ever return.

Maybe, but probably not this week.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Democratic Rep. George Miller during a press conference Nov. 7, 2009 after the House passed healthcare reform. Credit: Associated Press 

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