Last year, Rep. Bart Stupak led a herculean effort to ensure that the health care bill that passed the House included language preventing federal funding of abortions. Over the past several weeks, he’s insisted that he couldn’t vote for a health care bill that did not include his language, and that a dozen House Democrats were with him.
As a result, Stupak has been assailed by liberals and is under strong pressure to compromise his values. And according to this Associated Press story, he seems to be softening a bit:
“I’m more optimistic than I was a week ago,” Stupak said in an interview between meetings with constituents in his northern Michigan district. He was hosting a town hall meeting Monday night at a local high school.
“The president says he doesn’t want to expand or restrict current law (on abortion). Neither do I,” Stupak said. “That’s never been our position. So is there some language that we can agree on that hits both points — we don’t restrict, we don’t expand abortion rights? I think we can get there.”
It’s hard to see what Stupak would have in mind. While there’s been a lot of debate over the uses of reconciliation, there’s been widespread agreement that abortion is one issue that cannot be addressed that way. And even if it were theoretically possible to impose Stupak language via reconciliation, it would still be difficult to get that passed through the much more pro-choice Senate. During the December Senate health care debate, Ben Nelson offered an amendment with the Stupak language, and the measure was tabled, having only received 45 votes in support.
If Stupak were to cave and other self-described pro-life Democrats were to follow him, it would remove the biggest obstacle to passing the health care bill, and make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s quest for 216 votes significantly easier.
Peter Suderman has more thoughts.
UPDATE: The Politico has this from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:
“I think it will be resolved one way or the other, and I think the bill will pass,” Hoyer said after acknowledging that he wouldn’t answer a question directly. “It’s got to be resolved.”
Last week, Hoyer spoke with Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who authored the House abortion restrictions, but he cautioned reporters that their conversation was brief — and, in no way, a formal negotiation.
“I have had no negotiations with Mr. Stupak,” Hoyer said. “Mr.Stupak came up to me on the floor and said I would like to talk to you. I said okay. We have no yet talked — about substance.”
UPDATE II: Stupak tells the Weekly Standard: “If I didn’t” cave in November, “why would I do it now after all the crap I’ve been through?”