You could just see this one coming today: faced with a difficult vote count without a bloc of anti-choice Democrats on board, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed an openness to a standalone vote, essentially a third bill, on Bart Stupak’s abortion amendment, as a condition of his support for health care reform.
Stupak has re-entered negotiations with Democratic leadership, and this evening, emerging from a meeting with Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer indicated one possible way forward.
“Separate pieces of legislation could be passed that would relate to that,” Hoyer said in response to a question from TPMDC. “That’s a possibility. I talked to Mr. Stupak today, and I’m going to be talking to him next week and he indicated he wanted to have some discussions with people. And I will do that.”
House leaders do not have the option of changing the language in the Senate health care bill related to abortion funding, because it would probably not make it past the Byrd rule in the reconciliation process. Therefore, the only way to change the bill to Stupak’s satisfaction would be to give him a separate vote – a piece of legislation banning abortion services coverage in the exchanges.
The House’s other option is to pass the bill over the objection of Stupak and his co-horts. Stupak says he has twelve votes; Chris Bowers puts the number between 6 and 17 (I think it’s credible to suggest that members of Congress not with Stupak on all his test votes before could be with him now, because the stakes are different and the abortion issue is one they could bring to their constituents, to say they “got” something to stay on the bill). Whatever the number, any defections from yes votes at this stage would have to be matched with flipping people who voted against the House bill last time. The leadership doesn’t appear to have had much success in that effort yet, although at least a few are open to changing their vote. John Boccieri is the latest.
“After reviewing the President’s health care proposal and watching portions of his bipartisan health care summit, I’m encouraged the proposal contains important provisions to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse and reduce the deficit. I am hopeful that going forward from last week’s summit with bipartisan ideas, we can finally move toward providing affordable, quality coverage for everyone.”
But the fact that Hoyer is floating a separate vote does indicate that the leadership is having trouble matching Stupak’s numbers. And that raises a whole host of questions:
1) Would the President agree to delay signing of the final bill until the Stupak standalone bill gets a vote? Presumably Stupak would want such a guarantee.
2) Similarly, would the Senate be bound by such an agreement to put the amendment up to a standalone vote? Or is this just a House deal?
3) If the vote fails in either the House or the Senate, would that be it for health reform? Is this a promise of a future vote rather than a promise not to sign health care into law unless this passes?
4) What would Republicans do, in both the House and the Senate? In the House, all of them fell in line and agreed to the amendment back in November. In the Senate, all but Collins and Snowe agreed on the vote, which ultimately failed. But if health care rides on Republicans taking this vote, would they vote for it themselves, or would they rather put pro-choice Democrats in the excruciating position of having to vote for an abortion coverage ban in order to get health care through?
5) If Republicans refuse to play along, would Democrats whip the vote?
Expect answers to these questions in the next couple of days.
UPDATE: Just one other thing on this: how come 12 Democrats can force a standalone vote taking away reproductive rights, but 12, or 20, or 100-plus at last count, cannot force a vote on the public option, with the same tactic? Because one group is credibly willing to walk away from the table and ditch health care altogether, while the other is not.