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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Democratic leaders persuaded four more House members Friday to support a landmark
health-care bill after initially opposing it, but they still need votes
from a pivotal bloc of lawmakers who remain concerned that the proposal
would open the door for the federal funding of abortions.
than 200 House members have announced that they will vote on Sunday
against the Senate's health-care bill. That leaves Democrats little margin for error as they attempt to gather the 216
votes needed for passage among the few dozen lawmakers who remain
Speaking to thousands of cheering supporters Friday at George Mason
University, President Obama predicted a "tough vote" as he prepared to
meet with House Democrats at the Capitol on Saturday. House leaders
publicly predicted victory, but they kept private their own vote count
as they continued to woo the undeclared Democrats.
The largest clutch of targets in that lobbying effort is antiabortion
Democrats; garnering their votes would ensure the bill's passage, senior
Democrats said Friday.
Those holdout lawmakers, most of whom hail from the Midwest and are
Catholic, generally support the $940 billion package and its aim of
providing coverage for 32 million more Americans. But they have voiced
objections to how the Senate bill would handle insurance coverage of
"I want to vote for the bill. I just need to take care of a few issues
before I can," Rep.
James L. Oberstar (Minn.) said Friday.
In recent days, abortion opponents have gathered in meeting rooms and in
huddles on the House floor, trading ideas and proposals, meeting with
clergy and other religious officials, who are also deeply divided over
the impact of the Senate bill's language. Those discussions continued
deep into the night.
One potential compromise could include staging a vote, separate from the
health bill, on stronger antiabortion provisions.
A few other Democrats voiced concern Friday about another issue, the
bill's Medicare funding formulas for doctors and hospitals. Liberals
such as Reps. Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.) and Michael
E. Capuano (Mass.) said they would withhold their support unless
the formulas were rewritten.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi exuded confidence, saying, "When we bring the
bill to the floor, we will have a significant victory for the American
The House is expected to vote Sunday on a health-care bill that the
Senate approved on Christmas Eve, along with a separate package of
All 178 Republicans are expected to oppose the bill, so they need to
peel off 38 Democrats to defeat the measure, almost the exact number
that opposed the first version of the legislation in November. "I just
think it is clearly false momentum," said House Minority Whip Eric
Cantor (R-Va.). "The votes still aren't there."
The White House said that, just this week, the president has spoken 64
times to wavering lawmakers, often in one-on-one meetings in the Oval
Office. That work paid off Friday when Reps. John
Boccieri (Ohio), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Suzanne
Kosmas (Fla.) and Scott Murphy (N.Y.) announced their new support,
bringing to seven the number of Democratic converts this week. Boccieri,
Kosmas and Murphy are freshmen whom Republicans have targeted in
The Senate's version included slightly less stringent restrictions.
State-run insurance exchanges created under the legislation would be
permitted to bar abortion coverage in the policies they offer, but
recipients of federal tax credits for insurance would be permitted to
buy policies with abortion coverage if it were available. Their tax
credit would finance the bulk of their policy, but they would have to
write a separate check, with their own money, to pay for the part of the
policy that covers elective abortions.
"They'll send you two bills, and you'll write two checks," said Timothy
Jost, a legal and health policy expert at the Washington and Lee School
of Law who has studied the legislation. Jost, who appeared Friday at a
news conference organized by antiabortion groups that support the Senate
language, said he expects that few people will buy the extra coverage,
particularly if they get insurance through an employer.
The Senate bill includes a number of often-overlooked provisions
designed to reduce the number of abortions. They include a $250 million
grant program for young pregnant women who need help with child care or
college tuition, additional tax credits for adoptive parents, and $11
million for community health centers, which are barred by federal law
from offering abortion services. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius affirmed Friday the administration's commitment to that
Despite claiming unity, the antiabortion bloc of Democrats has fissures
within its ranks. Stupak is the staunchest critic of the Senate
language, believing it would breach the 32-year-old Hyde Amendment
prohibiting federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest
or to save the life of the mother.
Stupak said Friday he cannot support the legislation unless the House
votes on a separate bill that would strip out the Senate's treatment of
abortion and replace it with the language passed by the House. But House
Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise
Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who is also co-chair of the Congressional
Pro-Choice Caucus, said, "There will be no separate vote" on abortion
Stupak also wants written assurance that the Senate would approve his
abortion bill, and a promise from Obama that he would not sign the
Senate bill until the abortion bill has been passed into law. But his
provisions garnered only 45 votes in the Senate, making it almost
impossible to win approval there.
Oberstar, an 18-term lawmaker, is studying the Senate's firewall
segregating federal funds from abortion services to determine whether it
Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), a 14-term lawmaker from the Toledo area, is
trying to forge a compromise that would bring most, if not all, of the
group onboard to support the final bill. Although she would prefer
another vote on Stupak's amendment, Kaptur pointed to the Sebelius
letter and private talks with Senate
Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), co-author of the abortion
language, as signs that a settlement could be reached.
"Some of the information we're getting is very reassuring," Kaptur said.
Every day, unemployment
benefits are running out for thousands of jobless workers. In three
hours, the Senate is considering a bill that would extend these vital benefits
for 14 weeks in every state, and an additional 6 weeks in states with high rates
The bill also would
encourage states to let survivors of sexual assault — as well as survivors of
domestic violence — qualify for unemployment benefits if they had to leave a
But some Senators have
stalled action on the bill for weeks.
Please join the Women's
Funding Network, in partnership with the National Women's Law Center, to contact
your Senators to urge them to support an extension of unemployment benefits
To speak to your Senators,
call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to
speak to your Senators (to leave messages for both of them, you will have to
call for each one), or click
here to look up the name and contact information of your Senators.
Below is a sample script you
"My name is _________. I am
a constituent and I am requesting that Senator _______ support an immediate
extension of unemployment insurance benefits that includes encouraging states to
let sexual assault and domestic violence survivors who have had to leave their
jobs, access to unemployment benefits."