Democratic Leaders Split on Separate Abortion Vote

Posted March 19, 2010 at 12:18pm

Updated: 2:48 p.m.

Top House Democrats remain split about whether to pursue a side agreement on abortion that could win the support of about a half-dozen holdouts for a sweeping health care overhaul.

The issue is dogging Democratic leaders as they head down to the wire in their efforts to round up 216 votes for the health care package. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled Friday there will be no further negotiations. “If you don’t want federal funding, and you want the status quo for abortion access and you want to pass a health care bill, this is it,” Pelosi said, dismissing the notion of further accommodations for an anti-abortion-rights group led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). “Right now we’re just getting the votes to pass a bill.”

House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) went further, declaring she would not allow a vote on abortion language.

“There will be no separate vote,” she declared.

Stupak’s group has been angling for a separate vote to affirm strict language they got inserted into the House-passed measure last year. And House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), tasked with finding the votes for the health care overhaul, said Friday he “would not be opposed” to a separate vote on the tougher abortion language.

But Clyburn also projected confidence that Democrats are on track for a win on Sunday afternoon. “I feel very sure that we’ll vote sometime after 2 o’clock on Sunday and the bill will pass,” he said.

A key question for vote-counters is how many lawmakers Stupak brings with him. The Michigan Democrat has maintained that he has about a dozen. But Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who counts himself in the group, estimated that the number is about half that.

Rahall said the group wants leaders in both chambers to offer “a promise to act in the future” to codify that no taxpayer dollars will be used to fund abortions.

Stupak introduced an enrolling resolution Friday signed by eight Democrats that would send his language to the Senate. Stupak’s co-signers included Reps. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Marion Berry (Ark.) and Rahall.

“The goal is to try and get a vote on this,” Kaptur said.

Kaptur said that other developments, however, were helping to reassure her about the existing language in the Senate bill. She said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius affirmed in a letter Friday that funding for community health clinics would fall under existing Hyde Amendment prohibitions on abortion funding, and Kaptur said she expected to get another letter clarifying that federal subsidies for insurance plans in the Senate bill would be kept separate from abortion funding.

Kaptur said that it helps that the subsidies in the Senate bill would go directly to private plans instead of first to individuals.

Kaptur also said abortion was discussed at the White House Thursday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pitching the Senate language, saying that he had written it and had a long record opposing abortion.