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Stupak Bluffing: Only Has 30 Votes To Block House Health Care Bill

Blanche Lincoln is meeting at this hour with Barack Obama, and the outcome could determine the fate of the Senate health care bill. But the action is all on the House side today.

There was an expectation that we’d already see a bill with the “manager’s amendment” attached, ready for voting on the floor of the House within 72 hours. That process has been hampered, however, by furious lobbying among House members who want to see certain provisions included in the bill. In particular, an anti-choice group of Democrats led by Bart Stupak want to block consideration of the bill unless they get a radical amendment added to the bill, which would effectively ban reproductive choice coverage in all individual and small-group insurance under the guise of stopping “public funding of abortions”. I wrote extensively about the issue last Friday, and I raised the question of whether or not Stupak was bluffing.

But does Stupak actually have the votes? Stupak has sent several letters demanding that his language on abortion funding be inserted into the bill, in place of the compromise amendment submitted by Lois Capps that would let private companies make their own coverage decisions in this area, and separate subsidy money and private money to keep in the spirit of the Hyde Amendment. In NONE of those formal letters, (NARAL’s Donna) Crane said, has Stupak threatened to vote against the rule explicitly. Crane said her organization doesn’t have a handle on just how many members Stupak has agreeing with him to take down the rule, but she believes it’s not as many as he claims.

That looks to be the case, based on a whip count of “Stupak Democrats” provided today to Chris Bowers. There has to this point been no whip operation to find out just how many Democrats would vote to block consideration of the bill if it did not include radical change to federal law, going much further than the Hyde Amendment and basically telling private companies what legal services they can and cannot cover. But that whip operation has begun in earnest, and it has yielded (so far) 29 Democrats who would join with Stupak:

Altmire; Barrow; Boren; Bright; Carney; Childers; Costello; Dahlkemper; A. Davis; L. Davis; Driehaus; Griffith; Holden; Kildee; Kratovil (conflicting reports); Lipinski; Marshall; Matheson; McIntyre; Melancon; McMahon; Mollohan; Oberstar; Peterson; Rahall; Ross; Shuler; Tanner; Taylor

Not only is that not enough to take down the bill, but many of those Congressmen (and all but one, Kathy Dahlkemper, are men) would never vote for a health care bill anyway. Gene Taylor is on the record against it. Artur Davis, running for Governor in Alabama, said today that the House bill “risks disaster”. Jim Marshall has related it to the Soviet Union. Jason Altmire can’t wait to vote against health care; he’s even trying to get the media to read the election results in that context.

Stupak is double counting votes, and this list probably represents the outer edge of opposition within the Democratic caucus. However, Bowers is correct in saying this:

Then again, it is possible there are enough Progressives–and other Democratic members–upset with the bill for other reasons prevent debate from going forward. At this point, it would only take nine such Democrats to join with Republicans and with this group, and block the whole thing.

There is a very narrow margin for the health care bill in the House. However, while most national news stories continue to focus on the cost of the bill or on the public option, the major sticking point for conservative Democrats is actually reproductive rights. Even under the widest Democratic majority in three decades, they are still attempting–and close to succeeding–in actually pushing reproductive rights backward.

I would add that reproductive rights is being used as a fig leaf, but the fact is that the full Congress probably still tilts against abortion rights, and so it’s a successful fig leaf.

The reports here are also conflicting. The Hill said today that Nancy Pelosi was picking up centrist votes today, and House leaders are whipping a compromise measure that would strengthen the language in the bill, making it closer to Stupak’s preference. Steny Hoyer said today that he’s “reasonably confident” of reaching a deal. There’s more in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

The point here is that Stupak doesn’t seem to have the votes, and if smaller groups (like progressives, or immigrant advocates) are placated, they could probably ram this bill through. Trying to reach people who are clear no votes on the bill seems futile.

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David Dayen

David Dayen