Stupak Figures Large in Health Endgame

Posted February 24, 2010 at 6:04pm

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) won’t be attending Thursday’s bipartisan health care summit at Blair House, but the leader of a band of anti-abortion Democrats standing in the way of President Barack Obama’s $950 billion health care overhaul is already getting White House attention.

So far, he’s not budging.

“The White House has called a couple of times,” Stupak said, but he’s not satisfied. “If it’s the Senate proposal, it’s a nonstarter. It’s not going anywhere.”

Stupak authored the amendment to the House health care bill that barred people from purchasing insurance plans covering abortion if they received federal subsidies.

The Senate language requires people to use their own funds to pay for abortion coverage, but Stupak has dismissed that language by arguing that such coverage would only be affordable with the federal aid.

Stupak said that regardless of which route the health care bill takes, abortion has to be addressed.

“It’s going to be in there one way or the other,” Stupak said.

Stupak said he has not whipped votes — he’s been busy chairing hearings on the Toyota recalls — but predicted at least 10 Democrats who voted for the House bill would oppose a bill unless the Stupak language is restored.

“We’ve had the vote, and that’s the language we expect,” Stupak said.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that abortion could not be addressed in reconciliation, which is reserved for budget-related items, and he has urged advocates on both sides of the issue to put off the fight until future years and not hold up the larger bill.

But Stupak said that’s not good enough.

“We’re not kicking the can down the road,” he said.

Stupak said he and other Members still have other problems with the bill as well.

“Members aren’t overly impressed with this so-called proposal,” Stupak said, noting House opposition to the proposed tax on high-cost health care plans, even though it has been scaled back and delayed.

“The argument is well, don’t worry about it because it’s not going to happen until 2018. Well, that’s not responsible legislating.”

Republicans, meanwhile, pointed to the abortion dispute as a sign Democrats lacked the votes to pass their bill. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) put out a memo listing 11 Democrats and Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (La.) who supported the original House bill but could flip their votes over abortion.

“House Democrats could be down to as few as 205 yes votes,” Cantor said.

In a letter to the White House on Wednesday, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on Obama to extend an invitation to Stupak because the Michigan Democrat’s amendment passed with a bipartisan majority.

Boehner told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that it was important Stupak attend the meeting.

“The issue of taxpayer-funded abortion is a serious issue. What their intention to do in this legislation is change 30 years of legislative history that says there will be no taxpayer-funded abortions,” Boehner told reporters during a Wednesday afternoon press conference with House and Senate leaders. “Their bill clearly allows taxpayer-funded abortion and I think that … Bart Stupak, a Democrat who voted on their bill, should be there because he has been the leader on this issue.”

But Stupak said he doesn’t need a seat at the summit, and he doesn’t think it would be particularly helpful if he were there.

“Having a real divisive issue there probably doesn’t encourage discussions,” he said.

He later released a statement saying he had no prior knowledge of Boehner’s letter. “I am far more concerned with making real progress toward enacting comprehensive health care reform than with who received an invitation to tomorrow’s health care summit,” Stupak said.

Liberal Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, tried to horn his way into the summit if Stupak gets to go.

“Let’s make a deal,” Weiner said in a press release. “Republicans get to invite Stupak and Democrats get me. If the Republicans can bring an anti-choice advocate, why can’t Democrats bring a single payer advocate?”

Boehner, however, made it clear it’s up to the White House to invite Stupak. He said that he if he received an additional slot for the summit, he would fill it with a Republican.