Just got off the phone with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who stepped off the House floor to describe the scene at the center of the political universe.
"If you look at our side of the chamber, there's a frenzy of activity, members hugging and smiling," said Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat. "And the Republican side is looking pretty deflated."
As House deputy majority whip, Wasserman Schultz has had a leading role in rounding up those crucial yes votes. For weeks, she's been on the cable news circuit expressing optimism about the Democrats' chances to get the 216 votes it needs to pass the health-care reform bill. By all accounts now, they've got 'em. I asked her whether Barack Obama's executive order to address concerns by pro-life Democrats put the bill over the top.
"It wasn't just the executive order by the president -- Bart Stupak [the pro-life congressman whose group was holding back for provisions that would prevent federal spending on abortions] actually said he thought we had enough votes even without his group's support," said Wasserman Schultz. "The pivotal thing was when the CBO issued its report saying that the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $143 billion over the first ten years."
A month ago, conventional wisdom said that voting for the health-care reform bill would doom a Democrats' reelection campaign. As vice chair of the incumbent retention program of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, that'll be Wasserman Schultz's problem.
"When we go home to our district and run on what this bill accomplishes and what it can do in the next few years, I think it will be a huge boost for Democratic Congress members running for reelection," she said. Whatever the polls may say about support for the bill itself, Wasserman Schultz points out that components of the bill -- like those that close the infamous "doughnut hole" and make providing health insurance more affordable for small-business owners -- have support of 70 to 80 percent.
"The first time I ran [for Congress], I ran on health care," said Wasserman Schultz. "And I've always believed that when I got to the end of my career, I would want to look back and know that I played a part in making health care a right, not a privilege."