Sunday, March 21, 2010

Will There Be an 11th Hour Stupak Deal? And Does It Matter?

After being on and off for days, it appears the pro-life wing of Democrats, represented publicly by Rep. Bart Stupak, are close to striking a deal with the White House, whereby they would vote for the Senate bill, which contains weaker language prohibiting abortion funding than the original House-passed plan, and in return the White House would issue an executive order clarifying that funds from the bill would not be used to fund abortions. How exactly this executive order would change anything is not clear to me.

The abortion issue and what the Senate language means has been a subject of a lot of debate, both in congress and in religious circles. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops came out against the Senate bill, after supporting the original House bill, on the basis of the abortion language not being strong enough. But, in a rare public contradiction, the largest group of US nuns, as well as several prominent Catholic Priests and Bishops dissented, stating the language was strong enough. The debate was striking in the directness with which the Catholic church has been engaged in the debate. The Catholic Church is both a strong advocate for health care as a universal right and a strong opponent of abortion, so their loyalties are naturally conflicted on this bill.

So does the potential Stupak compromise matter? Probably a little. It appears that the original Stupak "gang of 12" Democrats who demanded the abortion language in the House bill has probably diminished to 6 or so, with original members such as Rep. Marcy Kaptur on record as supporting the bill as written after originally being with Stupak. So, it is entirely possible for the bill to go through, albeit with no margin for error, without the votes of the remaining Stupak Democrats.

But getting Stupak gets Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer two things -- first, a margin of error if there is late movement that they don't anticipate. Second, it lets members in tough districts who are onboard if needed but would prefer not to have to vote "yea" off the hook.

Debate starts in 25 minutes. Stay tuned.

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