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Gutierrez threatens "no" vote on Obama health bill; history with Emanuel

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WASHINGTON--House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Obama White House are hunting for 216 Democratic votes for President Obama's health care bill, but six Illinois Democrats are not at "yes" yet -- with Rep. Luis Gutierrez emerging as a "no" -- for now.

Obama gets no automatic breaks from some of his former Illinois congressional colleagues at this stage in the negotiations.

"Am I going to vote for the proposal as it is currently formulated? No," Gutierrez told me Friday.

Gutierrez's pledge of a no vote is linked to his pressure -- with other immigrant rights groups -- on the Obama team to try to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package this year.

Gutierrez and the caucus are also threatening not to support the Obama health plan because the legislation would not allow illegal immigrants to buy health insurance with their own money in the new federal exchanges that would be created in the plan.

Gutierrez was at the White House on Thursday with other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus meeting with Obama to discuss immigration in advance of a giant March 21 rally in Washington -- which could come within days of the health vote.

There is linkage between health care and immigration reform, which is a reason the White House very publicly engaged in immigration meetings in past days. My guess is Gutierrez will eventually vote "yes'' and is using leverage he has for now to prod Obama to make some public pledge on immigration.

A back story to this: Gutierrez sees White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as a potential obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform. In 2005, Gutierrez accused Emanuel, then the chairman of the House political operation, of cajoling Democrats facing tough re-election races in 2006 to vote for a GOP immigration bill immigrant rights groups opposed.

Rep. Dan Lipinski will vote "no'' unless there is language in the bill that strips any kind of federal subsidy from health insurance policies providing coverage for elective abortion.

The so-called "Stupak" language did get in a health bill the House passed last year, and Lipinski voted for it. But this time around, the legislation House members will likely be asked to approve would allow women who get federal help in paying for insurance to get elective abortion coverage if she pays for it with her own money.

Lipinski told me he wants the Stupak language or he will vote against it. Rep. Jerry Costello also has concerns about abortion coverage.

Rep. Debbie Halvorson, Rep. Melissa Bean and Rep. Bill Foster are all in the "uncommitted" column for now. All three ended up voting for the House bill last year, and my guess is they will vote "yes'' again. They all come from potentially swing districts -- and are reluctant to commit before seeing the final language of the bill and learning what legislative maneuvers are planned to pass it.

The final language of the bill and an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office are expected in the coming days, which will trigger pressure on uncommitted Democrats from House Democratic leaders and the Obama administration. Pelosi does not want to call the bill unless she has the votes to pass it.

Every Illinois Republican -- including GOP Senate nominee Rep. Mark Kirk -- is likely to vote "no.''

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 14, 2010 7:32 PM.

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