February 24, 2010 — Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who led efforts to restrict insurance coverage for abortion in the House health reform bill (HR 3962), on Tuesday criticized President Obama's health overhaul proposal because it retains Senate language on abortion coverage in health plans that receive federal subsidies, the New York Times reports. Stupak in November 2009 voted for the House bill (HR 3962) after the addition of his amendment stating that federal subsidies could not be used to pay "any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion," with limited exceptions.
According to the New York Times, the language in the Senate's health reform bill (HR 3590) is less restrictive than Stupak's amendment (Herszenhorn/Pear, New York Times, 2/24). The Senate bill allows insurers selling policies in the exchange to offer plans that include abortion coverage but would require people to pay for abortion coverage with a separate check, a provision designed to win the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the Wall Street Journal reports. Abortion-rights supporters say that insurance companies would find the separate checks requirement cumbersome and stop covering abortion services altogether (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 2/24).
In his statement Tuesday, Stupak said, "I was pleased to see President Obama's health care proposal did not include several of the sweetheart deals provided to select states in the Senate bill." He continued, "Unfortunately, the president's proposal encompasses the Senate language allowing public funding of abortion" and marks a "significant departure from current law." Stupak also said, "While the president has laid out a health care proposal that brings us closer to resolving our differences, there is still work to be done before Congress can pass comprehensive health care reform" (Smith, "Ben Smith," Politico, 2/23).
According to the Journal, abortion coverage could be "one of the toughest" obstacles in passing health reform legislation. House leaders say there is a strong chance Stupak will vote against a final bill if it does not include his language. Democrats estimate that 10 or more other Democratic House members will join him in voting against the bill.
One idea being discussed to get Stupak's support is promising to impose new abortion restrictions on the use of federal subsidies through one of the annual spending bills. Stupak has not ruled out this option, the Journal reports. If Stupak votes against the bill, Democratic leaders would have to secure the support of Democrats who voted against the House bill for reasons not related to abortion to make up for any lost votes (Wall Street Journal, 2/24).
Two-Part Strategy Moves Forward
Democrats are confident that they can move forward on health reform legislation despite weeks of uncertainty about whether they could block a Republican-led filibuster, the Los Angeles Times reports. Democratic leaders appear to have decided on a two-part strategy to advance the legislation by urging House Democrats to pass the Senate bill unchanged. They would then use the budget reconciliation process, which requires a simple majority vote, to push a separate package of modifications to the Senate bill and health care measures designed to garner more support. When combined, the Senate bill and the separate package would closely resemble Obama's proposal.
Senate leaders say they have the required 51 votes to pass the reconciliation package, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is still working to secure the 218 votes needed to pass the Senate bill in the House. The recent death of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and the departure of several other Democrats in recent days has complicated the task, the Los Angeles Times reports (Levey/Hook, Los Angeles Times, 2/24). Pelosi might get a boost from the 255-member House Progressive Caucus, which on Tuesday endorsed Obama's proposal, CQ Today reports. The endorsement fortifies Obama's position heading into Thursday's bipartisan health care summit and will allow him to "concentrate on convincing moderate and conservative Democrats whose support he will need to win final action," according to CQ Today (Epstein, CQ Today, 2/23).
MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Tuesday reported on Stupak's opposition to Obama's proposal. The segment includes a discussion with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, who said more than 40 members will not support a bill that include Stupak's language (Maddow, "The Rachel Maddow Show," MSNBC, 2/23).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on the history of using the budget reconciliation process to advance health care-related legislation. According to "Morning Edition," most major health care bills over the past three decades have been passed through reconciliation (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 2/24).