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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bart Stupak's Anti-Abortion Funding Agreement Highlights, Will It Stand?

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White House, Bart Stupak Reach Anti-Abortion Funding Agreement

The White House and anti-abortion Democrats have reached an agreement to defuse the controversy over abortion in the health reform bill — planning a series of steps that will secure the support of Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak and other Democrats to give party leaders the votes they need to pass reform, sources tell POLITICO.

Under the agreement, President Barack Obama would sign an executive order ensuring that no federal funding will go to pay for abortion under the health reform plans. In addition, Stupak will get to state his concerns about abortion funding in the bill during a colloquy on the House floor during the debate.

And then, Stupak and several other Democratic holdouts over abortion will sign on to the bill, the sources said. The agreement would almost certainly give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the 216 votes she needs to secure an historic health reform vote by day’s end — capping a yearlong drive to achieve Obama’s signature legislative goal.

Stupak himself told reporters in the Capitol that he remains opposed to the bill at this time. "I'm a 'no' vote. There is no agreement. Until there is an agreement I'm a 'no' vote," Stupak said, but he said the negotiations on a final agreement are continuing.

Asked how many votes hang in the balance, Stupak said, “enough” — meaning enough to save or kill the bill.

But Rep. Alan Mollohan, who is one of the votes in question, told POLITICO that the language in the agreement has already been essentially cleared. Mollohan said it is only a matter of time for "the follow-through steps" to be implemented.

The small cavalcade of victories for Democratic leaders appeared to put them in position to enact the health care law while allowing more politically vulnerable lawmakers off the hook.

Earlier Sunday, Democratic leaders expressed growing confidence that they would have the votes needed to pass a sweeping health reform measure by day’s end — even as the No. 2 House leader acknowledged Democrats are still a few votes shy of a majority.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats are “low single digits” away from getting the 216 votes needed to pass the bill.

“We're going to get the votes, low single digits certainly, but we're going to get the votes, and we’re going to have the votes this afternoon,” Hoyer (Md.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” "There are still members looking at it, trying to make up their minds [but], we think 216-plus votes when we call the roll."

But Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) insisted the Democrats were already there, saying Sunday would be an historic day, and said: “We have the votes now, as we speak,” he said.

Democrats hope to secure the votes of a trio of veteran Blue Dogs — Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California and retiring Reps. Marion Berry (Ark.) and John Tanner (Tenn.) — as well as a handful of anti-abortion Democrats who could break from Stupak to back the bill.

Already, Stupak’s phalanx of Anti-Abortion hard-liners has been breaking apart, with Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur announcing Sunday that she will support the health care bill. Retiring Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who had concerns about the bill not related to abortion, also announced Sunday that he will vote for the bill.

A round of late-night negotiations held the promise of further cracking Stupak's coalition with a proposed executive order that would reinforce the bill's ban on federal subsidies for the purchase of insurance plans that cover abortion.

The talks, led by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), were expected to continue deep into the night after a rare and wild Saturday House session that featured a visit from Obama to a Democratic Caucus meeting and a frenzied tea party-style protest against the bill and Democratic leaders on the Capitol grounds.

"It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow," Obama said in an address broadcast nationwide from deep inside the underground Capitol Visitor Center. "Don't do it for me. Don't do it for Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid . Do it for the American people. They're the ones looking for action right now."

Pass or fail, Sunday's votes will be the culmination of a tortuous yearlong legislative saga. Democrats believe they will deliver on a decades-overdue promise, and Republicans believe Democrats are setting themselves up for a rout come November. At this point, Louisiana Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao is the only Republican who could back the bill — and, though he voted for the initial House bill, that seems like a long shot.

At the same time Obama spoke, several stories above the caucus bunker, thousands of protesters massed at the southeastern edge of the Capitol grounds. Several Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, used a bullhorn to whip up the crowd in opposition to the health care bill and the Democratic leaders who are pursuing its enactment. They derisively chanted Pelosi's first name, yelling "Nan-cy, Nan-cy, Nan-cy" in unison, as if attending a New York Mets game.

Despite the protesters, Obama's Saturday afternoon pep talk came amid good news for Democratic vote-counters, who predicted they would get the 216 votes needed to send the bulk of the health care overhaul to the president on Sunday.

In addition to expanding health insurance access to nearly every American, the measure would end insurers' ability to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. Democrats, backed by a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office, say their combined bills will also produce a surplus of $138 billion over the next decade and $1.2 trillion over the following 10 years.

In the final push to clear the underbrush for Sunday's votes, Democratic leaders killed a controversial plan to avoid a direct vote on the Senate's bill, opting instead to vote separately on both that bill and the House's fixes.

Sources: MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Politico, Youtube

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