The same Connolly story also gives us an extended look at one of the most mendacious characters in the whole HCR narrative:
Without missing a beat, Welch turned to Altmire, who voted against the bill in November but was on the fence in March.
"Yes," Welch said, "health-care reform."
Then Obama draped one arm over Altmire's shoulder, turned away from the others and leaned in close to his intended target.
"Peter's right, Jason," Obama said. "We have to do this. It is essential to bringing down the deficit."
Estimates by the independent Congressional Budget Office would soon show that the measure would reduce the deficit, Obama said, while the status quo "blows the deficit."
Altmire, more than most in Congress, understood the intricacies of health policy. As a congressional aide in the 1990s, he had worked on Clinton's failed effort and later became a hospital executive (Altmire was also a lobbyist for Pittsburgh healthcare giant UPMC–an important point Connolly left out - ed.). He opposed the bill in November in part because it would not have gone far enough to control rising medical costs.
Obama saw that as his opening, pointing out to Altmire that the new version would create a Medicare cost-cutting commission.
Altmire reminded Obama that he had been to the congressman's district in western Pennsylvania, a conservative region where Republicans often win and the Roman Catholic bishop holds considerable sway.
"I want to represent my district," he said. "As you know, it is politically split."
As the president drifted toward a lectern to address the entire room, Emanuel cornered Altmire. The two went back to 2006, when Emanuel helped the former high school football star win his seat in Congress.
"Your constituents like you; you've built up a reservoir of goodwill," Emanuel said. "You have an opportunity before this vote to go back home and explain it to them."
Obama and Emanuel had made clear that they needed the votes of many of the lawmakers sipping cocktails that evening, even skeptics such as Altmire.
The conversations in the Blue Room however, were but a gentle hint of what was to come.
On Friday morning, Altmire e-mailed Emanuel. Despite the party on St. Patrick's Day at the White House, a sit-down with Emanuel, a few more phone calls from the president and three from Cabinet-level officials, Altmire planned to announce that he would vote no.
As dayvoe points out, Altmire represents a conservative district where a "yes" vote might have constituted political suicide. Perhaps. But even the normally placid editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette excoriates him (reprinted in full):
When history came calling, Jason Altmire turned away.
The two-term congressman from McCandless voted against his party's long-fought effort to reform health care in America.
He stood with insurance companies that raised premiums by 30 and 40 percent, tea party protesters who mistake decibels for decency and wild-eyed Republicans with a zeal to bring down a president.
By claiming to want a better bill, he stood as a defender of the status quo, which leaves millions without health coverage, denies insurance for pre-existing conditions and causes headaches for employers and misery for working-class families.
By voting no, Jason Altmire turned his back on his president and his party, and today he stands as a Democrat in name only.
In true D.C. doublespeak he tried to spin his nay as a virtue, a profile in courage -- a man principled enough to be independent of his party. Tell that to the single working mother in Beaver Falls who can't afford next year's premium.
People in high office seldom get such a clarifying moment -- when their voice and their vote matters to the nation and to posterity. We have seen such moments with the dawn of Social Security, the declarations of war on Japan and Germany, the court rulings to end racial segregation. Jason Altmire looked his moment straight in the eye and couldn't muster the backbone to embrace change.
Some day in the future children will ask him how he voted in Congress to secure affordable basic health insurance for Americans. He'll no doubt repeat his story that he wanted a better bill, that he wanted to lower costs -- everything except that he was on the wrong side of history.
That's gonna leave a mark.
As I mentioned, a "yes" vote from Altmire might have been political suicide. But the fact is that midterm elections are base elections. In all probability, Republicans are going to be energized and turn out in relatively large number and they're not going to vote for any Democrat no matter his voting record. By opposing HCR, the mendacious Altmire has guaranteed that Democrats won't be voting for him. His only hope of winning in November is for his probable opponent, Loyal Bushie Mary Beth Buchanan, to self-destruct – admittedly, a real possibility.
My guess is that Altmire voted the way he did out of concern for his job-security. No, not saving his job in Congress, but assuring that should he be defeated he will be able to return the healthcare lobbying business in good-standing.
(Image by nobozos.)