House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday that lawmakers could draft separate pieces of legislation with abortion language to earn the support of anti-abortion rights Democrats on healthcare reform legislation.
Stupak has said that 12 lawmakers who previously backed healthcare reform legislation in the House could withhold their support if the Senate's abortion language, which was largely upheld by the president's fixes, remains unchanged. Twelve defections would likely prevent the healthcare overhaul from passing the House.
Hoyer's comment's shine light on the options Democratic leaders are considering to get Stupak and his purported allies on board with the healthcare plan.
Democrats are expected to move forward by passing the Senate bill and then a package of fixes using the budget reconciliation process in the Senate, which would allow a simply majority of senators to approve the corrections instead of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he supports an "up-or-down vote" on healthcare but did not specifically say the word "reconciliation."
But Stupak's stand has cast doubt on whether or not House Democrats have the votes to pass the Senate's bill. The Michigan lawmaker amended the House's bill to include tough restrictions on federal subsidies for healthcare plans that provide for abortions. Stupak has said that the Senate's language could allow federal money to fund abortions.
He said yesterday that he has spoken to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about the
prospects of a "sidebar" bill on abortion that would be tied to the
final healthcare bill. It is unlikely that the abortion issue can be fixed through reconciliation because it does not directly relate to budget issues. Lawmakers have been trying to find other ways to work around the issue.
Pelosi twice this week said that abortion is not central to the healthcare bill, but Stupak has made it an issue in recent weeks.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Calif.), chairwoman on the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus said Thursday that Stupak cannot marshal the votes to sink the bill, but Hoyer's words show that Democratic leaders are at least taking the threat seriously.
Hoyer did not specifically discuss his meeting with Baucus, who spent three months last year negotiating with Republicans on the healthcare reform bill.
But he did that "you would be surprised if [healthcare] didn't come up."