No Deal: Pro-Life Democrat Still Vowing to Kill Health Care Bill

By Matt Cover | November 5, 2009 | 12:36 PM EST

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus.

(  - Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) told on Thursday he has not reached an agreement with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and therefore he and dozens of pro-life Democrats are still poised to kill the House health care bill.

Stupak has organized a group of about 40 Democrats who are committed to killing the health care bill if Pelosi (D.-Calif.) does not allow them a straight up-or-down vote on an amendment that would prohibit federal dollars from paying for any part of any health insurance plan that covers abortions.

Stupak and his approximately 40 allies plan to vote against the special "rule" that would govern the terms of the House floor debate on the health care bill. If this rule does not win a majority vote, the House cannot proceed to consideration of the bill itself.

Stupak has said he believes he has enough votes to defeat the rule if Speaker Pelosi does not relent.  The vote on the rule is likey to occur late Friday afternoon or Friday evening.

“I will continue to oppose, and will continue whipping my colleagues to oppose, bringing the bill to the floor for a vote until there is satisfactory language to prevent public funding for abortion,” Stupak told in a statement on Thursday. 

A senior aide in Stupak’s office told, “Right now, the group of those pro-life Dems are holding together pretty well. The coalition is standing strong behind Congressman Stupak.” The group is committed to killing the bill if the Stupak amendment is not allowed a vote, the aide said. 
The text of a proposed “manager’s amendment," which includes last-minute changes to the bill approved by the Democratic leadership, was released by the Democratic leadership on Tuesday. Prior to its release, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had said he was “reasonably confident” that it would include language that addressed the concerns of Stupak's group of pro-life Democrats. It did not.

Stupak told “I am disappointed the manager’s amendment introduced Tuesday night does nothing to change, let alone improve, the inadequate language on federal funding for abortion currently in the health care bill.”
The language that Stupak would find satisfactory would ban any federal funds from paying for any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion. (This is exactly what the Hyde Amendment currently does for funds funnelled through each year's annual HHS appropriation bill.)  

As the health care bill is currently constructed, the secretary of HHS can decide to allow the government-run "public option" to provide abortions. Also, the private plans that people would be allowed to purchase with federal subsidies would be permitted to cover abortions if they wished--although the bill says that the HHS secretary must insure that at least one such abortion-providing insurer be available to all federally subsidized health insurance purchasers.

House leaders have been negotiating with Stupak for more than a week, pushing a proposal offered by Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.). This proposal envisions the federal government hiring contractors to separate the tax dollars that subsidze the "public option" government-run insurance plan from the premiums individuals pay to that government-run plan to theoretically ensure that only the latter dollars go to pay for abortion services. The Ellsworth language would still allow tax dollars to flow to private insurance companies that cover abortion.

Ellsworth called his idea a “contingency plan” for preventing federal funding of abortion.
“When you're going into battle, it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan,” Ellsworth said in a Nov. 3 press release announcing his proposal. “The bottom line is we’re going to exhaust every avenue to ensure pro-life concerns are addressed in this legislation.”
But Ellsworth's plan does not satisfy Stupak, other pro-life Democrats, House Republicans, the National Right to Life Committee and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who do not want tax dollars flowing into the coffers of abortion providers regardless of the paper work by which the money is processed.
The Democratic leadership is currently planning to attach the Ellsworth amendment to the rule in such a way that if the rule passes, the Ellsworth language would automatically become part of the health care bill. 
A Democratic congressional aide noted that Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who must approve the language in the rule, is also co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus.
“If the leader of the Pro-Choice Caucus thinks it’s good language, then that kind of tells you where things are at from the leader of the Pro-Life Caucus’ [Stupak] perspective,” said the aide.

While the Ellsworth amendment will not move Stupak, the Democratic leadership may be hoping that it will provide cover for a few of the pro-life Democrats alligned with Stupak to switch camps and join the leadership in voting for the rule and bringing the health care bill to the floor.  
While the manager’s amendment does not include language to prohibit abortion funding, it does contain a lengthy provision establishing a new tax credit for second-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol.