By Kathleen Gilbert
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 26, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aims to seal the abortion-expanding health care bill in an early November vote, pro-life lawmakers, led by Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, are locked in a dead heat race for votes with Democratic leadership. According to Stupak, the Democratic leadership intends to keep a stranglehold on any pro-life amendment effort, which they acknowledge would likely otherwise succeed.
In an interview with LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) today, Rep. Stupak said that he is counting on about 40 fellow Democrats to “take down the rule” – or kill the bill on a procedural vote – if House leadership refuses to allow a floor vote on an amendment that would prevent federal funding of abortion. The procedural “rule” vote would draft rules for debating the bill on the floor, and needs to be passed before the bill can move forward to a floor vote.
With the 40 Democrats, Stupak's vote-gathering efforts tally up to 220, counting the whole GOP – approximately two votes over the absolute minimum needed to succeed.
Stupak said he was “fairly confident” that the Democrat group would hold the line against the bill, “because this is not just an appropriation bill, this is the bill that will set the health care policy for the United States for years to come. This is a little bit more serious than just a rule vote on an appropriation bill.”
The rules vote strategy has emerged as a last-ditch effort to preserve long-standing federal policy against government-funded abortion in the health care overhaul. The famous Hyde amendment blocking government-funded abortions only exists as an appropriations bill rider, which means that it would not apply to the health care bill. Hence, Stupak and his pro-life colleagues have fought to include Hyde-like language in the health care measure, to ensure that no federal funds pay for abortion. So far, every bid to include such language has been rejected in committee.
This leaves an upcoming House floor vote as the last time pro-life lawmakers will have a say on the form of the bill. But according to Stupak, Democratic leadership has said that they plan to allow no amendment opportunities on the House floor at all, including the pro-life amendment – an excuse Stupak said “doesn't hold any water.”
“[The Democratic leadership] privately admit that we probably have the votes [to approve the Hyde language on the House floor],” Stupak told LSN. “The majority of Americans do not want to see public funding for abortion, and when it comes down to a vote most members will vote that way, if given an opportunity.”
Thirty Democrats, including Stupak, signed a letter delivered by Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) asking Speaker Pelosi to follow through on President Obama's September 9 statement that there would be no public funding for abortion in the health reform plan. Obama had said in his address to a joint session of congress: “One more misunderstanding I want to clear up – under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”
Stupak said that the letter signed by the 30 Democrats, “referenced the President's comments, and the Speaker should honor that.”
On Friday, Stupak described to CNSnews.com an exchange he had with President Obama after the President's remarks during the joint session.
“[Obama] said: 'What it says is, under 'my' plan,' meaning the President's plan,” said Stupak. “And I said, 'With all due respect sir, you do not have a plan. The only plan we have out is the House plan.' So, I don't know if it's a game of semantics, or what.”
The congressman said that, when he pressed the topic, “[Obama] said: 'Go back and work with the people in your committee, and get this matter worked out. Work with the speaker. Work with us, would you?' And I said, 'Yes I would.'
“And we've tried. And we – but we haven't been able to resolve our differences, because we do not want public funds going for abortion.”
Even if Stupak's band of lawmakers succeeds in defeating the rule, however, the victory would not be secure for long. Stupak said that House leadership would almost certainly bring the measure up again the next day, and make another attempt at pressure members to change their vote.
“They'll go beg people and plead with them not to allow me, or right to life in this case, this victory on the floor,” said Stupak. “I do right now today [have enough votes], but when you go to the floor for a vote, the Speaker has a way of getting her way – by that I mean, the Speaker usually can twist arms and get a few votes her way.”
In the face of what will likely be a bitter David and Goliath struggle, Stupak told LSN, “Well, we're under a lot of pressure, but it goes with the territory.” He added that several dozen of his Democrat colleagues have upheld the pro-life cause as “a principle we've always stood on, and we're not ready to drop that principle now in the name of health care.”
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