Democrats whipping on abortion compromise to save health bill

Democratic House leaders have developed a compromise they hope will resolve an intra-caucus dispute about whether the health bill allows tax dollars to subsidize abortions, and they’re surveying abortion-rights opponents in the caucus to gauge support.

The language is not yet publicly available, but lawmakers familiar with it say it strengthens an existing provision intended to prevent abortion from getting any federal dollars.

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“It makes it clear that no federal dollars can be used for abortion procedures. Those words are in there,” Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) said Monday night. He had been given a copy of the language, but hadn't fully reviewed it and hadn't decided if it was sufficient.

The question of whether the subsidies for poor and middle-income people can pay for plans that cover abortion is one of the final, major sticking points in the healthcare legislation. Leaders are hoping to start debate Friday or Saturday, and say there will definitely be a vote before Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

Lawmakers have said the abortion compromise may not be included in the final version of the bill to be released as soon as today, called the “managers amendment.” Instead it may be included in the “rule” which is done the day before the vote. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said today he did not consider that a violation of his pledge to have the bill language available for three days before a vote.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) has said he has the votes to use a procedural maneuver to block the bill from coming up if abortion opponents don’t get an up-or-down vote on an amendment that bans abortion services from the “essential benefits package” and prevents individuals who receive affordability credits from using those credits to purchase a plan that includes abortion.

Democrats have begun whipping on the procedural vote — the "rule." That means they are asking fellow House Democrats, particularly abortion opponents, if they will back leadership on the procedural rule.

Abortion-rights supporters say the bill as written maintains the status quo — that federal funds cannot be used for abortion. They say Stupak’s proposal goes too far in preventing people from buying coverage that includes abortion.