Friday House Vote Slipping

Posted November 3, 2009 at 6:37pm

House Democrats on Tuesday night appeared close to having to delay a vote on their health care bill until Saturday or next week as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) struggled to resolve the thorny issues of abortion and immigration.

Democratic leaders were continuing to furiously whip Members on both the rule and the bill itself, although the likelihood that a vote would be pushed off until Saturday or early next week was growing.

“Support for the bill is really starting to gel,— contended Chief Deputy Majority Whip Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), member list in hand. DeGette said the whip team is urging lawmakers who are planning to oppose the bill to support the rule, where fights over abortion and other issues are likely to be fought.

“We talk to people about that all the time,— she said. “The way you operate as a majority party is you hold together on procedural votes.—

One option Democratic leaders were considering was to release a manager’s amendment without the abortion issue resolved and to deal with it separately in the rule in a bid for time. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that would not violate the party’s pledge to give Members 72 hours to read the bill before having to vote on it.

The No. 2 House Democrat acknowledged that while he hoped to wrap up work on the bill this week, the final vote could slip. But Hoyer said he is confident lawmakers will approve the measure by Tuesday at the latest, before they skip town for Veterans Day.

Abortion remained the most volatile outstanding matter, with Pelosi continuing to work through an intraparty battle between Democrats who oppose abortion and want to ensure that no federal funding pays for abortions and pro-abortion-rights Members who want to ensure that at least some of the insurance plans in the bill cover the procedure.

Under the existing bill, those abortions would have to be covered with private funds, but anti-abortion Members want a stronger prohibition. Democratic leaders were offering language that would reiterate explicitly that federal funds must not be used for abortions but did not seem willing to go so far as to ban abortions from being covered by the new national insurance plans.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who has been leading the fight for anti-abortion Members, released a statement Tuesday saying that he has talked in recent days with the White House and House leadership and will continue to do so. But, he said, “there is no agreement and I will oppose bringing the bill to the floor until an amendment can be offered or language agreed to that will prevent public funding for abortion.—

[IMGCAP(1)]House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said that the rule would be locked down, allowing a vote on a Republican alternative and perhaps one other, but no additional amendments. And Slaughter said she would not accede to a demand from some liberals for a separate vote on a stronger version of a public insurance option tied to Medicare rates.

Slaughter said she still held out hope that a stronger version of the public insurance option would emerge from the House-Senate conference even though it has already been stripped from the House bill.

Democrats also were mulling whether to prohibit illegal immigrants from using their own money to buy insurance through the new national insurance exchange.

“The Speaker hasn’t yet made a decision on that,— Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said.

The White House and the Senate Finance Committee have backed such a ban, but House liberals and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in particular are strongly opposed to the idea.

Andrews said the issue is “more about protecting Members against irrational criticism.—

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said that an illegal immigrant who is willing to pay for insurance without subsidies “is one less hit on the taxpayers.— Typically, such people can get free care in emergency rooms.

Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats were meeting Tuesday night to discuss the fiscal implications of the health care overhaul. Andrews, however, said that the cost implications of the measure have been broadly assuaged for Democrats by a Congressional Budget Office analysis showing the bill would cut the deficit by more than $100 billion in the first decade and by even more in the second.

Pelosi would not commit to a timeline beyond saying a bill would be on the floor “pretty soon.—

“I don’t think anybody has a clock ticking,— she said.