Stupak Rejects Hoyer’s New Claim that Senate Health Bill Bars Funding of Abortion

By Matt Cover | March 3, 2010 | 4:47 AM EST

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrive for a press conference after House passage of the health care reform bill at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

( - Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Mich.), sponsor of the successful amendment to the House version of the health care bill that prohibits federal funds from going to any health care plan that covers abortions, rejected the assertion made Tuesday by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) that the health care bill that passed the Senate prohibits federal funding of abortion.
This is important because President Obama’s current plan to enact health-care reform requires the House to pass the Senate bill, a bill that Stupak has said he will not support.
Speaking to reporters at his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Hoyer said that both the House and Senate versions of health reform prevent federal funding of abortions. He then acknowledged that the Democratic leadership would have to negotiate with Rep. Stupak (D-Mich.), the leader of pro-life Democrats, to pass health care legislation.
“The Senate bill and the House bill both included language which would assure that no public funds were spent contrary to the Hyde language -- that is (for) abortion or abortion procedures,” Hoyer said.
“The Senate bill provides for that (and) certainly the House bill provided for that, and I think we'll see whether we can work to a solution, a resolution which will affect that end,” said Hoyer.
But Michelle Begnoche, press secretary for Rep. Stupak, told in an e-mail: “The congressman does not agree with Mr. Hoyer's statement that the Senate bill language and the House bill language achieve the same end with regard to federal funding of abortion.
“On the issue of abortion language, there have been general discussions but no concrete proposals made at this time,” said Begnoche.
Stupak earlier told that the Senate bill would “go down in flames” in the House if members were forced to vote for the bill as it is. Stupak also said the Senate’s abortion language was unacceptable.
“Regardless of the abortion language, there are just too many objectionable items in there that at least I see, and in talking with maybe a half-dozen other members, they sort of see the same thing,” Stupak said on Dec. 23.
Stupak and Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) sponsored an amendment to the House health care bill that would prevent any taxpayer money from paying for any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion. The wording specifically was designed to keep federal insurance subsidies from indirectly funding abortion by paying for plans that cover the procedure.
A similar amendment offered by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) failed to attract enough Democratic support in the Senate, meaning that the differences in the abortion funding issue must be resolved for a final health care bill to pass.
Any compromise on abortion faces tough odds, even if it is deemed acceptable by Stupak and other pro-life House Democrats. Currently, Democratic leaders reportedly are planning to have the House pass the Senate version of reform as-is, thus by-passing a House-Senate conference.
The House reportedly would pass the Senate bill on the condition that the Senate uses the budget reconciliation process to pass changes the more liberal House wants. Under reconciliation, the Senate could pass health care reform with a simple majority, 51 votes, instead of the usual 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
Any abortion compromise would have to be included in a reconciliation package, a prospect that Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said may not even be possible. Conrad, who as Budget Committee chairman is an expert on reconciliation rules, said that abortion may not qualify for the special process normally reserved for budget bills.
“Reconciliation, as I have said all year, would not work for passing comprehensive health care reform,” Conrad told MSNBC on Tuesday morning, before Hoyer’s briefing. He noted that a comprehensive bill had already passed the Senate and was awaiting action in the House. If the House passes the Senate bill, a package of amendments could then be passed via reconciliation.
“The House could then pass a package to improve the health care reform (bill) with matters that are only budget-related,” said Conrad. “That was the whole intention of reconciliation – that it only be used for budget-related matters.”
Those “budget related matters” do not include abortion, Conrad said.
“I think changes to abortion would probably not be permitted under reconciliation and the Byrd rule requirement,” Conrad said. “Anything that doesn’t score for budget purposes or anything for which the score is only incidental to the policy change are subject to automatic strike under the Byrd rule.”
Under the Byrd rule, the Senate is prohibited from considering extraneous matters as part of a reconciliation bill.
Because an abortion compromise would likely prohibit taxpayer-funding of abortion and thus would not count as costing the government money or generating revenue, it could be ineligible for passage via reconciliation.
A spokesman for Senate Budget Committee Republicans explained to that in order for something to be stricken from a reconciliation bill, a senator must invoke the Byrd rule on the floor.
The only way to prevent a provision from being stricken under the Byrd rule is if 60 Senators vote to waive the rule. If such a vote fails, the point of order is sustained and the item is struck from the reconciliation bill.
The spokesman confirmed that if a provision does not score – change spending or revenues – it would be subject to removal under the Byrd rule.

-This story was updated on the morning of Wednesday, March 3, 2009.