Could a small but determined group of pro-life Democratic congressional representatives -- possibly including Minnesota's Jim Oberstar -- scuttle health care reform?
It's certainly a possibility given an announcement made this week by Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak. Appearing on MSNBC, Stupak said Wednesday that there are at least 12 Democrats in the U.S. House who voted for health reform last year who will now vote against it -- unless controversial changes are made to restrict women's access to health insurance covering abortion.
After Republican Scott Brown's Senate victory in Massachusetts, Democrats lost the filibuster-proof supermajority needed to ensure health reform's final passage. Both the U.S. House and Senate passed reform bills late last year; the House measure passed by just five votes. To move the bills forward, Democrats are now pursuing a process called reconciliation, which at this point, involves having the U.S. House approve the Senate bill. A vote is expected by March 18.
The problem, from Stupak's perspective, is that the Senate bill doesn't contain the same controversial abortion language (authored by Stupak) that is in the original House bill. The Stupak amendment would dramatically expand the number of women subject to the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal dollars to pay for abortion services. If enacted, women who would get federal subsidies to help them buy coverage would be subject to Hyde's restrictions. Even if they are using some of their own money to help buy coverage, they would not be allowed to purchase a plan covering abortion services -- something that most private plans currently provide.
So if Stupak can deliver, Democrats no longer have the same five-vote margin to pass the Senate bill. Instead, it goes down by seven votes.
On Thursday, Oberstar's office acknowledged that the congressman was very uncomfortable with the Senate bill's abortion language, but also said it's unclear who is on Stupak's list of 12. Stupak's office didn't return phone calls on Thursday.
Oberstar's office declined to reveal his position on the upcoming vote, but emphasized that he has been an advocate for years of single-payer health care reform and supported an earlier House bill with a public option. The congressman's office also provided this statement: "There will be a lot of negotiation and deal making before we get to a vote in the House and Jim is confident that there will be a compromise everyone can live with when that vote is taken."
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