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Abortion Backers Toughen Stance

Another senior Democratic aide isn’t taking the threat very seriously, either. “We all know that no one single issue is going to take it down. If a bill emerges from conference that lowers costs, brings down the deficit and expands coverage, Democrats are not going to bring it down over one single issue,” the aide said.

The elusive ideal would be to find a true compromise on the abortion language — something Obama clearly desires — but the two sides are pretty far apart. The architect of the anti-abortion hard line, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), and his coalition and the Catholic Bishops have been adamant that the language stay put, while pro-abortion-rights Democrats have insisted that women who receive federal subsidies should be able to choose plans that cover the procedure provided that their premiums, not the subsidy, pay for it.

Stupak said the abortion-rights supporters had overreached when they rejected a compromise he reached with Pelosi on the eve of the Saturday vote. That deal would have included a permanent ban on abortion funding by the public insurance option but an annual ban that would have to be renewed on private plans covering abortions.

“From our perspective, the fact [Pelosi] couldn’t find common ground actually helped us out,” Stupak said. “We got more than we thought we could.”

With focus now swinging to the Senate, top aides in that chamber said they expect abortion-rights defenders to have an easier time knocking down a provision as tough as the one that emerged from the House.

“The fact that it turned into such a high-profile issue over the weekend practically ensures that someone will take up the cause over here,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide. However, the aide said any anti-abortion amendment, whether offered by one the Senate’s handful of anti-abortion-rights Democrats or by a Republican, would likely have to overcome a filibuster attempt by liberals. That means any amendment would need 60 votes, a steep climb for abortion foes.

However, several Senators weighed in Monday saying the issue needs more work, and Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is against abortion rights, has not tipped his hand yet on exactly what language he will include in the bill he is bringing to the floor.

Sen Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) warned Monday evening that he would vote against a motion to proceed on any health care bill that does not include language barring federal funds from being used to provide insurance coverage for abortions. Nelson said he needs language in the final Senate bill to be similar to the Stupak language.

“I feel that something like the Stupak amendment should be included in the Senate version. I don’t know that it’s not because I haven’t seen the Senate version,” Nelson told reporters, adding that inclusion of such language does not guarantee his support given other issues he may have with the legislation.

Senate Democratic aides, however, noted that the abortion issue is unlikely to become as controversial in the Senate as it was in the House.

“This has been a long-simmering fight in the House,” said another senior Senate Democratic aide. “You don’t have the same dynamic over here. There are more moderate Members who are looking at this in a practical way.”

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