Day before health care vote, abortion again causing problems among Democrats

Jon Ward Contributor
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Democrats hoped Saturday to pick up the final few votes needed to get them over the hump and solidify passage of sweeping changes to the nation’s health care system, but faced questions that developed late Friday over whether they can attract pro-life lawmakers without losing pro-choice support.

Estimates of how many votes Democrats need range from one to four. President Obama will arrive at 3 p.m. to meet with the Democratic caucus, in an attempt to rally them toward a final vote Sunday.

Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, is scheduled to hold an 11 a.m. press conference to shed more light on how he proposes to change abortion language in the health care bill, an idea that riled pro-choice lawmakers late Friday when they learned of the idea.

The move by Stupak, who holds a crucial bloc of Democratic votes that if released would clear the way for the health bill, threw Capitol Hill into confusion Friday evening.

Stupak, leaving the Capitol, said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s willingness to talk to him about his idea shows Democrats “don’t have the votes, or they wouldn’t be talking to me,” in an interview with The Hill’s Molly Hooper.

Stupak is reportedly trying to change the abortion language through a procedure called a “concurrent resolution,” but a parliamentarian expert told The Daily Caller that such a move would face huge hurdles.

The House would likely have to pass the Senate bill, and then hold it back from going to the president for his signature while they voted on the concurrent resolution. Or the president could receive the bill but not sign it into law, waiting for the resolution changing the abortion language to go through the Senate.

The chances of passing such a provision through the Senate, in addition, are not good.

Nonetheless, Pelosi appeared to be taking the proposal seriously, judging by the reaction from her pro-choice caucus.

Rep. Diana Degette, Colorado Democrat, emerged clearly agitated from a meeting with Pelosi and other pro-choice members in a room just off the House floor.

She said the Stupak proposal was a “non-starter.”

“Nobody likes this,” she said, claiming that more than 40 pro-choice Democrats would oppose the move.

“If Mr. Stupak and a few members … decide to use this to take health care down, then that loss of health care coverage will be on them,” she said.

Asked if she was willing to vote against the health care bill if Stupak got his way, she said “we are not going to vote for a bill that restricts the woman’s right to choose beyond current law.”

“So you’re willing to take down the health care bill?” the Daily Caller asked.

“That’s it! That’s all I’m saying!” she said.

She then added: “I’m not taking any bill down.”

Pelosi, hurrying out of the meeting with the pro-choice caucus, refused to talk to reporters as she headed to a meeting with other lawmakers in her offices.

A series of staffers and White House officials, including Nancy Ann DeParle, head of the White House office of health reform, and Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council, were in and out of Pelosi’s office late Friday.

The only lawmaker seen exiting Pelosi’s office was Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is pro-life and voted for the Stupak amendment to the House bill in November, but has not been discussed as a likely no vote.

Three states, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, account for seven of the nine remaining lawmakers who are thought to be most up for grabs among the Stupak bloc. These lawmakers are Paul Kanjorski, Tim Carney and Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania, Jerry Costello and Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, Steve Driehaus and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Allan Mollohan of West Virginia, and Zack Space of Florida.

There are four House Democrats who voted against the bill in November who are still undecided: Brian Baird of Washington, who is retiring, Glenn Nye and Rick Boucher of Virginia, and John Tanner of Tennessee.

Four previous no votes flipped to yes on Friday: John Boccieri of Ohio, Patrick Murphy of New York, and Allen Boyd and Suzanne Kosmas of Florida. There are seven no votes who have flipped to yes in all, including Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Betsy Markey of Colorado and Bart Gordon of Tennessee.

Along with the Stupak bloc, two other Democrats who voted for the bill the first time have said they will oppose it this time: Michael Arcuri of New York and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts.