Time-Crunched Dems Lunge for Saturday Finish Line on Health Bill

With another in a long list of deadlines for the Senate health care bill approaching this weekend, Democrat leaders – who evidently still lack the votes to push the abortion-funding bill through the House – are beginning to show a few more cracks in their facade.

Keeping to a tight schedule has always been a priority for the health bill, partly to quell public outcry against it and partly to avoid running into the upcoming 2010 campaign season, when congressional activity is expected to grind to a halt. Now President Obama, scheduled to depart for an overseas trip on Sunday, is pushing Saturday as the do-or-die moment for a bill that has seen many such moments fly by.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has endorsed Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) plan to avoid a vote on the bill in the House by simply “deeming” it passed after a vote on a fix package, continues to maintain a cheery prognosis for the unpopular measure.

Yet tales of presidential haranguing and “Chicago-style politics” indicate that Democrat leaders are becoming increasingly desperate in their quest to twist the remaining “no” votes into “yes” votes by Saturday.

A Politico report Thursday detailed what it called “intense pressure tactics” lobbyists have been using to pummel Democrat lawmakers who have not fallen in line behind the bill. One senior aide to a conservative Democrat acted fed up with calls from donors perceived as thinly-veiled threats that future financial support would be withheld unless minds were changed.

“If you want to play Chicago-style politics, and that’s what this is, then we will come out firmly against it,” said the aide.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), who opposes the bill, told the paper that his office has received repeated calls from Organizing for America, the president’s unofficial outreach arm, attempting to change his mind. “While it’s one thing for constituents to express their opinion,” said Edwards, “It’s clear to me [Organizing for America] could care less about my political future.”

Democrats such as Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) report multiple personal calls from President Obama pressuring for support.

At least one previously steady “no” vote, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), announced Wednesday that he will support the measure.

Yet with abortion remaining the top clear obstacle to the health bill’s passage, it’s no surprise that enormous pressure has already begun to mount against Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI). Stupak is the author of the abortion funding ban in the House bill, and is now the leader of about a dozen House Democrats vowing to vote down the Senate version if it does not include similar language.

Stupak told National Review Online Friday that the level of vitriol aimed at him for holding out against the bill “has really reached an unhealthy stage.”

“People are threatening ethics complaints on me,” he said. “On the left, they’re really stepping it up. … Does it bother me? Sure. Does it change my position? No.”

As of Tuesday, however, Stupak maintained that a dozen pro-life Democrats will still vote against the bill if it doesn’t include the restrictions on abortion funding that were included in the House health care bill. The Michigan Democrat said that, while some have left the original dozen, others have decided to join the group.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be gearing up to tackle the abortion issue head-on: the Speaker hastily convened a meeting Wednesday morning of all female Democratic House members.  The topic of the meeting, however, was kept under wraps.

But for all the effort, Democrats may be forced to delay the elusive final deadline once more: an anonymous Democratic Congressman quoted by Politico complained that the deadlines pushed by the White House are “sort of silly.”

“Remember the first one? March 18th?” said the lawmaker. “That was sort of like putting a calendar on Rahm’s back and inviting members to throw darts at him.”

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage