White House, Leaders Pitch President’s Bill to Democratic Members

Posted March 11, 2010 at 1:41pm

White House aides pitched President Barack Obama’s health care legislation in detail Thursday to the House rank and file, as Democratic leaders hope to push the bill to the floor as soon as next week.

A host of concerns remain for individual Members — everything from parochial concerns that their states not lose Medicaid funding to the continuing dispute over abortion.

But there are also signs that Members are beginning to coalesce around the president’s outline, provided that they can have some concrete assurance that the Senate will pass it.

“People are clearly looking for a way to get to yes,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said.

And even on the issue of abortion, there are cracks showing in the anti-abortion coalition headed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), a key ally of Stupak’s, said Wednesday night that he is satisfied that the Senate’s abortion language effectively prohibits federal funding of abortions and will probably vote for the bill.

And Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said she would not easily vote for a bill that did not include Stupak’s more restrictive language banning insurance coverage of abortion but stopped short of issuing an ultimatum.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) likewise said he is undecided whether he could support a bill with the Senate’s language.

“I have not come to a conclusion yet,” Ellsworth said. “But I’d like to see something to get the pro-life Dems unanimously to support the bill. I’d also like to see if not the blessing then the agreement of the Catholic bishops organization.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), however, reiterated a hard-line position, vowing to oppose any bill unless Stupak-like language is added. “There has to be a realization among leadership that they need to pick up votes and abortion is a stumbling block,” he said. “Nothing yet has moved forward.”

So far, leaders haven’t yet conceded that they need to bow down to the Stupak wing of the party, or that doing so would necessarily net them votes.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has been talking to Stupak and other Members about the issue, said it’s not clear yet how it will be resolved. “Most Members feel that the abortion issue was dealt with in the Senate-passed bill,” he said.

And Waxman said a number of people who supported Stupak’s abortion amendment have decided to back the Senate language.

“There are many people who share his views who are voting for this bill,” Waxman said.

Members of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus like Schakowsky said any accommodation to Stupak would cost them the votes of more Members than they would gain.

“We have more votes than he does to defeat that effort,” she said. “There are no side deals that are going to be acceptable to the Pro-Choice Caucus.”

Schakowsky also took on Stupak’s contention that 10 or more Democrats who voted for the earlier House bill would join him in opposition to the Senate bill.

“We don’t think he has the votes,” she said. “He’s never come out with names. There’s a reason for that. They are not solid votes.”

Many House Members, meanwhile, would prefer a process that would deem the Senate bill passed once the reconciliation bill has passed both chambers, although it’s not certain yet whether that will pass muster in the Senate.

That way, House Democrats could say they did not bless all of the special deals embedded in the Senate bill, but instead voted for a package that did away with those deals.

And it would bridge what now is a deep distrust between the two chambers given the Senate’s historic level of dysfunction and delays over the past year.

“I’m not going to take their word for it,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said. “They’ve got 290 bills of ours. We’re not as stupid as we look.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also peppered with questions Thursday about whether the public insurance option could be revived.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said many House Democrats want to see Senate Democrats go on the record by voting on the public option. “There’s enough confusion about who shot J.R. that we should try to get to the end of this mystery,” he said.

Pelosi, however, told Members that it was not part of the president’s plan.

Pelosi said Members used the session to highlight their priorities: “Public option, public option, public option, as you can imagine,” she said.

“It was very productive in terms of hearing directly from the White House what the president’s proposal is,” Pelosi said. “Reconciliation is a very narrow discipline, and that was emphasized to the Members this morning.”

Pelosi, meanwhile, still refused to get pinned down on a time line for a vote, but she hinted strongly that the House would not vote before the White House’s preferred March 18 deadline.

“March 18 is an interesting date,” she said. “Our clock starts ticking when we get the final [Congressional Budget Office] report” on the bill’s cost. She said it would take a week “at least — it may take longer,” after the CBO report comes out before the package could hit the House floor.