Pro-Choice Caucus leader: Stupak doesn't have the votes to kill health bill

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) doesn't have the votes to stop healthcare legislation, the leader of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus said Thursday.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the co-chairwoman of the abortion-rights-supporting caucus, predicted that abortion would not prove to be a sticking point among Democrats that brings down health reform efforts.

"I don't think Congressman Stupak has the votes to kill healthcare legislation over his language not being in there," DeGette told The Hill.

Abortion rights became a key part of House and Senate debates over healthcare legislation last year, with Democratic leaders in both chambers having offered restrictions on federal subsidies to health plans covering abortion to win over key centrist Democrats' votes.

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The House adopted an amendment from Stupak which abortion-rights supporters like DeGette had decried under the assumption that it would eventually be removed. Stupak is now threatening to fell the bill as it comes up for another vote unless it meets the standard set by his amendment.

DeGette said that Stupak's threat to vote against the bill, along with 11 other Democrats who'd previously supported it, meant that the bill would go down.

"He says he has 10 or 11 people who will vote no, but a lot of those people voted no the first time, but there are also a lot of other people who voted no the first time who now want to support the bill," she said.

But the bill may not be out of the woods yet on abortion, as the Pro-Choice Caucus is still concerned about the restrictions in the Senate bill, upon which the House is expected to vote.

"With respect to the Senate abortion language, the pro-choice caucus is waiting to see the final language the White House comes out with," DeGette said. "We want to analyze that."

Still, it's not clear, DeGette conceded, whether or how the language in the Senate bill could be changed. The series of fixes the House is expected to pass to the Senate bill are going through budget reconciliation rules, meaning that anything in the new bill would have to be strictly related to budget issues. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has said, for instance, that issues like abortion and immigration would have to be tackled separately.

"We don't know exactly what the Senate parliamentarian would rule," DeGette said. "Everyone's making that assumption, but the devil's always in the details."

In the meanwhile, DeGette said the Pro-Choice Caucus has no official position on the abortion language in the Senate bill.

"People don't want to bring this bill down over abortion," she said.