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September 22, 2014

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LETTER FROM WASHINGTON:

Different routes, leading to the same ‘aye’

Dina Titus

Dina Titus

Shelley Berkley

Shelley Berkley

In the end, there was really no other choice for Nevada’s two House Democrats than to vote yes on the health care bill.

Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus withheld their support for today’s scheduled vote until the last minute, playing out a story line whose end was clearly in sight.

But drama ensued as the political powers in Washington focused on the undecided, and Democratic leaders pursued the 216 votes the House would need for passage.

Titus and Berkley took different routes to arrive at the obvious.

Berkley received phone calls last week from two Cabinet secretaries and President Barack Obama, but Titus was largely left alone.

Titus had made it clear to her party’s leaders in Washington that she would not be pressured about her decision. She told all who would listen, especially her constituents, that she wanted to read the bill and review the financial report before she would make her decision.

Party leaders let her be. Opponents ran ads against her. Angry constituents called her office.

Titus’ reluctance to support the bill is understandable. She is the first Democrat to represent the Southern Nevada swing district. Health care remains a divisive issue that Republicans will use to try to unseat her as she seeks a second term. Her party is nowhere near as popular as it was when she was elected in 2008.

Berkley, meanwhile, emerged as a surprise holdout. She expressed reservations about the Senate-passed bill now before the House. But she had also said she was not about to let the “perfect be the enemy of the good.”

What was she waiting for? A few things, actually.

One was a chance to discuss improvements that could be made to the bill and convey her belief that the administration and Congress could do a better job communicating their message and countering misinformation from the opposition.

In the end, though, neither Titus nor Berkley had much of a choice but to give the bill their support. Both congresswomen had voted for the original House bill. To change positions would expose them to criticism of flip-flopping.

True, the Senate bill is different in important ways from the one they first supported. But legislative nuances get lost in campaign ads.

Moreover, House Democrats know they face a difficult re-election season this fall. Even when the public is divided, being able to come home and say you accomplished something is better than returning empty-handed.

But perhaps more telling, Democratic fortunes will rise or fall this November largely on the success of the president, and if Obama’s domestic priority went down in defeat — after a year of debate — few in the party would look good.

Better for Democrats to take a tough “yes” vote for the team than what may seem like an easier “no” vote that kills the bill and may imperil them all.

That is a tough sell for some Democrats, but for others it may come more easily. Both Titus and Berkley have been advocates of health care reform, believers in the overall architecture of a system that would provide universal coverage to the nation’s uninsured, including nearly 500,000 in Nevada, according to statehealthfacts.org.

Berkley is likely to face an easier re-election campaign than many of her colleagues in her relatively safe seat in Las Vegas. Titus, facing a more difficult re-election, is better off going to voters with her convictions on health care rather than a vote that would be used against her either way.

In the end, it was an easy decision, even if getting there was hard.

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