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Abortion Vexes Leaders Seeking Reform Deal

Abortion-rights supporters, meanwhile, are vowing to oppose efforts to restrict abortion coverage provided people pay for that portion of the insurance with their own money.

“We are not going to agree to further restrictions on abortion,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chairwoman of the Pro-Choice Caucus, noting that 40 Members have signed a letter vowing to oppose a health care bill with language akin to the blanket Stupak ban that passed the House.

“If you put abortion restrictions in the bill, that’s the one thing we’ll never fix,” she said, predicting that pressure to vote against abortion rights “will just crush people every year.”

DeGette, who is also a Chief Deputy Whip, said she’s done her own count and believes Democratic leaders can roll Stupak and company.

“I think we have the votes,” she said. “Some of the people I think will vote ‘yes,’ but they don’t want to tell Bart that.”

DeGette also doesn’t like the idea of annual votes on abortion.

“We’re not going to have an annual vote on anything,” she said. Women should be able to choose private insurance that covers abortion in the exchanges just as they can now without exchanges, she said.

“We’re not going to cross our fingers and hope we can fix this later,” she added.

That whip count, meanwhile, is complicated by the uncertainty surrounding what route leadership will take. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is one of the higher-profile backers of Stupak’s push and as recently as late last month pledged to oppose any health reform bill that lacked the Stupak language included in the House legislation. But Oberstar spokesman John Schadl on Tuesday signaled some flexibility. He said Oberstar is hopeful “there will be a compromise that he and others will be able to live with. Something’s got to change, but he hasn’t ruled out voting for the Senate bill if it’s an interim step toward a fix.” Schadl added, “Nobody is under the illusion that the House is going to pass the Senate bill as is. The question is will it meet the threshold that allows him to move forward — Jim is pretty confident that’s going to happen.”

So, apparently, is Stupak. His office noted that he met last week with Waxman and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and expects further discussions this week. He “remains optimistic that language can be worked out,” a Stupak spokesman said.

Democratic leaders acknowledge they don’t yet have a solution in hand.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said on MSNBC on Tuesday he was confident that Stupak and other Democrats would ultimately vote for the health care bill, but he didn’t offer a particular path for success.

And Hoyer on Tuesday morning said he has talked to Stupak about sitting down to discuss the issue. But the House Democratic No. 2 said they have not yet begun discussing substance.

“It is a serious issue that obviously confronts the Congress that has to be resolved in a way consistent, I think, with our opportunity to pass health care for all Americans,” Hoyer said.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.

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