Strong words by conservative House Democrats assuring constituents of their resolve against any abortion-expanding health care bill may further complicate an already-delicate process which is underway – the reconciling by Democrat leadership of two versions of President Obama’s health care overhaul on a tight deadline.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the author of the House bill’s Hyde-amendment restrictions on elective abortion funding, as well as Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), are continuing to reaffirm their opposition to the Senate bill’s abortion language over the congressional holiday. The House is due to reconvene Tuesday, while the Senate will return January 20.
In a Wall Street Journal article Monday, Stupak said that the final version of the bill’s abortion language “has to be pretty close to Stupak language or it’s not going to fly.” He promised not to compromise on the issue.
“I can go back to my district [on some issues] and say I did the best I could, I tried,” he said. “But on abortion you can’t go back and say, I used to be right to life; now I’m pro-choice. That doesn’t work; it’s either or.”
Given that the entire Republican party as well as conservative Democrats have been shut out of merging negotiations, leadership is widely expected to throw out Stupak’s language in favor of abortion language offered by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) – language that pro-life Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) called “identical to, or worse than” the original abortion amendment allowing government funding of the procedure.
Rep. Lipinski, who has consistently spoken against the government funding of abortion in the health care overhaul, reaffirmed in a statement following a local protest that he supported the Stupak amendment, which “no one can plausibly argue … would allow for taxpayer funding of abortion,” according to local news reports.
In Mississippi, soon after announcing plans to lobby Rep. Gene Taylor and other lawmakers against the health bill with a pro-life billboard campaign, the Southeast USA division of the Center for Bio-ethical Reform received a statement from the congressman’s office. That statement assured that “there is absolutely nothing in [Taylor's] 20-year record that would suggest that it is remotely possible that he would vote for any funding for abortions, direct or indirect.” Taylor voted for the Stupak amendment and against the House health care bill in November.
The conservative House Democrats that Stupak has been counting on to vote with him against a pro-abortion health care bill have received far less spotlighting than Stupak himself – yet pro-life advocates hoping to kill the bill are counting on the ten to twelve lawmakers’ crucial votes.
Lawmakers this weekend listened to constituents across the country sound off at town hall meetings, which were frequently dominated by impassioned opposition to the health care overhaul Democrat leaders have been relentlessly pushing through Congress.
Even districts whose representatives opposed the health care bill saw “tea party” crowds gather to decry various aspects of the controversial overhaul – including the abortion funding. Lipinski’s district saw a crowd of over 100 people, with one protester holding a sign that read: “Murdering babies with our tax dollars is not health care.”
“You find it wherever you go,” Stupak told the WSJ. “People say, ‘We applaud the amendment, but we don’t like the bill.’” At a townhall in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, local news reports an unusually large crowd questioning Republican Rep. Tom Petri about health care reform.
“Pass something and put it on a referendum and we’ll vote on it,” urged Ron Grabner of Oshkosh – a sentiment that reflected the broad discontent among U.S. voters over the bill.
The latest Rasmussen Reports survey Monday found the margin of opposition on the bill continues to grow: over twice as many now strongly oppose the bill as those who support it, 45%-19%. Overall, 55% of voters at least somewhat disapproved of the bill, while 40% at least somewhat approved. Yet there appears to be little confidence among voters that Congress will hear their voice on the matter: 69% now believe it’s at least somewhat likely the bill will pass.
Democrat leaders last Tuesday confirmed that the final stages of negotiation over the bill’s contents as the House and Senate versions merge will remain shut to the public and C-SPAN cameras. The decision came despite a direct plea from the network, as well as widespread objection that such a course directly contradicts Obama’s specific and oft-repeated campaign promise of transparency in the health care debate.
The party hopes to send a final bill to the President’s desk before the State of the Union address, which could come in late January or early February.