The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the House and Health Care for Sunday

The Shorthand: House will have three major votes. “Deem and Pass” is out. The House Democrats cannot have more than 37 of their members vote no and still pass the bill.

We expect everything to be wrapped up by early evening.

Here are the details: Some of this is subject to change. But this is an early bird read of how I expect things to play out.

1 pm: The House meets. Also at 1 pm, the House Democratic Caucus will meet in the Cannon Caucus Room. Unclear if they will do a press availability afterwards.

Sometime during the 1 pm hour, expect a series of “bed check” votes. The House will vote on extraneous items like approving the journal, et al. This is just an effort to get everyone to the House floor so the whips can talk to members and check to make sure everyone will vote the way they think they will. This is also a chance for them to clean up any problems or see if any new issues are emerging.

Once that is complete, the House then moves on to one hour of debate on “the rule.” This will probably happen sometime around 2:30 or 3 pm.

Nearly every piece of legislation that comes before the House must get a “rule” from the Rules Committee. The “rule” governs debate on a given issue, such as determining how many amendments are in order or how much time the House will expend. This rule handles two things: the Senate bill and the reconciliation resolution.

BUT HERE IS AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: Unlike the Democrats’ original plan, this rule will not utilize the “deem and pass” method on the Senate bill. While the rule handles BOTH packages, it provides for separate debate and votes on both measures.

Then there will be a procedural vote, called “Moving the Previous Question.” Ignore this. After that, there will be a vote on the rule. Probably not before 4 pm. If the House doesn’t approve the rule, it can’t advance to the underlying issues at hand.

The rule vote is the first of three important votes of the day.

If the House clears the rule, then it can begin debate on the two underlying bills.

The first hour is on the Senate bill. The second hour is on the reconciliation resolution.

Interesting wrinkle here: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) will manage their respective sides when the bills hit the floor. That is rare. Usually it’s committee chairs.

With slippage time, that moves us to at least 6 pm if not later.

The GOP will then be allowed to offer what’s called a “motion to recommit” or MTR. This is the minority party’s last effort to kill the bill.

A short debate will ensue, which probably takes us to at least 6:15 pm.

There will then be a vote on the motion to recommit. That takes us to at least 6:40.

Then we are ready for our final, two big votes of the day.

There will first be a vote on the Senate bill, followed by a vote on the reconciliation package.

These are the two, distinct votes that the GOP and many Democrats were seeking.

Why the Senate bill first followed by the reconciliation package? In a strange bit of Congressional arcana, doing the Senate legislation first actually makes the bill cheaper.

When they wrap up depends on how long they make both of those final votes. They could both be 15 minute votes.

The last vote of the night will be on an unrelated issue. They always schedule a "backstop" vote, usually on a non-controversial bill. This is kind of like kicking a field goal on third down in case there’s a bad snap. You never want to make a huge vote the last vote of the night. If something goes wrong with the vote or the voting equipment breaks down, the majority party could lose the vote if a re-vote is ordered and many members have already left the Capitol or gone to the airport.

If this timetable holds, I think everything be wrapped up by 7:30 or 8 pm. Expect the Democrats to do a "victory lap" presser afterwards. Unclear what the GOP might do.

This is very subject to change. Just the first blush of how I expect the day to go tomorrow.

Some things to look for:

The magic number 216, because the House currently only has 431 members. Democrats have 253 seats. That means they can lose no more than 37 of their own members and expect to pass the bills, if they get no assistance from the Republican side of the aisle.

Democrats are trying to round up the final votes to get them to the finish line. Here’s a list of the folks that the whip team is going to get in the closing hours. They fall in to a few different categories, and while they have similarities – at this point – every member is an island.

Retirees: These lawmakers are not running for reelection. So Democrats may try to convince them that they have nothing to lose by voting for reform (cf. Gordon, Bart).

Brian Baird (WA): A progressive, he opposed the bill from the left. Voted no in November. John Tanner (TN): He’s a fiscally-conscious Blue Dog. Voted no in November. Marion Berry (AR). While he was a yes last time, it’s not clear that he is this time.

Committee Chairs: These senior lawmakers wield a gavel. So the leadership has some leverage over them on tough votes.  One does not become a committee chair by opposing their party’s agenda.

Ike Skelton (MO): Chairman of the House Armed Services panel. He represents a swing district.  Voted no in November. Nick Rahall (WV): Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. He co-sponsored the Stupak resolution to strike the Nelson abortion language from the bill and insert the Stupak language.  The Speaker put the kibosh on that. And it’s unclear if that’s enough to get Rahall to vote no this time around. Rahall voted yes in the fall. Collin Peterson (MN): Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He’s a strong pro-lifer. Voted no in November.

Freshmen: Many of these lawmakers represent swing districts. And perhaps they think that opposing the bill will help them back home.

Frank Kratovil (MD): A freshman in a tough swing district. Voted no in the fall. Steve Driehaus (OH): A freshman in a typically Republican district. Voted yes in the fall. Tom Perriello (VA): A freshman who won in perhaps the biggest upset of 2008. Voted yes in the fall. Michael McMahon (D): Represents Staten Island and flipped the district from Republican to Democratic in 2008.

Stupak’s Team: These are lawmakers who have trouble with the bill due to abortion provisions.

Kathy Dahlkemper (PA): A freshman in a tough district. Voted yes in the fall. Marcy Kaptur (OH): A co-sponsor on the failed last minute Stupak resolution. Voted yes in the fall. From a safe district.

Lawmakers they’d like to have: These are lawmakers who the Speaker wants, but probably can’t get.

Chet Edwards (TX): A “cardinal” who chairs the Military Quality of Life Appropriations Subcommittee. Very moderate. Voted no in the fall. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD): The only female Democrat to oppose the fall bill. Artur Davis (AL): The only African American Democrat to oppose the bill. But Davis is retiring to run for governor.

Wild Card: These are lawmakers who could be “hip-pocket” votes for the Speaker. In other words, in case of emergency, please break glass. They have remained undeclared on their votes.

Rick Boucher (VA): Still undecided. But ran unopposed last fall. Virginia is trending Republican again and he could have his first real race since the 1980s.

Two Notes: Democrats have lost two “noes” since November. Former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) resigned. Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL) switched parties and became a Republican in December after the vote.

List of Democratic “Noes” from November:

Adler (NJ)  Altmire  (PA)  Baird  (WA)  Barrow  (GA)  Boccieri  (OH)  Boren  (OK)  Boucher  (VA)  Boyd  (FL)  Bright  (AL) Chandler  (KY)  Childers  (MS)  Davis (AL)  Davis (TN) Edwards (TX)    Gordon (TN)  Griffith  (AL)  Herseth Sandlin  (SD)  Holden  (PA)  Kissell  (NC)  Kosmas  (FL)  Kratovil  (MD)  Kucinich  (OH)  Markey (CO)  (CO)  Marshall  (GA)  Massa  (NY)  Matheson  (UT)  McIntyre  (NC)  McMahon  (NY)  Melancon  (LA)  Minnick  (ID)  Murphy (NY)  Nye  (VA)  Peterson  (MN)  Ross  (AR)  Shuler  (NC)  Skelton  (MO)  Tanner  (TN)  Taylor  (MS)  Teague  (NM)