Democrats: Abortion compromise does not break 72-hour promise

House Republicans are accusing Democrats of breaking a pledge to make the healthcare legislation public for three days so they can resolve a feud between liberals and centrists over abortion provisions.

Lawmakers said the abortion compromise may not be included in the final version of the bill to be released as soon as Wednesday, called the “manager’s 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 Tuesday he did not consider that a violation of his pledge to have the bill language available for three days before a vote.

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“We said the manager’s amendment we would give 72 hours for,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, we have had 72 hours on the bill. So I don’t think that is a violation.”

But Republican leaders accused Democrats of planning to sneak “closed-door” deals into the bill at the last minute.

“If Democrats continue to add closed-door deals to their bill after their manager’s amendment has been introduced, they will break their 72-hour promise,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “What else might they include in the final version without Congress and the American people knowing about it?”

Centrists and liberals are at odds over language that some interpret as allowing federal funds to go toward abortions.


The fight began over the summer at the Energy and Commerce Committee when Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) offered an amendment seeking to address the use of federal funds for abortions that was rejected. Ever since, Stupak has been threatening to block consideration of the bill if he couldn’t offer the amendment on the floor.

Negotiations between Stupak and Democratic leaders went nowhere, and it became one of the last unresolved issues in the bill. But on Monday night, Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) circulated proposed new language that reportedly would strengthen language already in the bill meant to prevent tax dollars from paying for abortion.

On Tuesday, leaders asked key members, including Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), an abortion opponent himself, to survey Democratic abortion opponents to see if they could support the Ellsworth plan.

“The leadership said, ‘Go see what kind of support you can get for it,’ ” said Ellsworth spokeswoman Liz Farrar. “We’re getting some positive feedback.”

But abortion-rights supporters indicated they didn’t see any need for changes to the bill. They said a provision added by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) in committee maintains the status quo that no federal dollars can be used for abortion.

“The healthcare bill already includes language that restricts federal funding of abortion,” said Kristofer Eisenla, spokesman for Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a leader of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. “This issue was addressed with the adoption of the Capps amendment during the Energy and Commerce Committee markup of the legislation.”

Abortion opponents say Capps’s amendment would still allow tax dollars to pay for abortion because the government would subsidize the purchase of insurance plans that could cover abortion.

Stupak has consistently said he has 40 Democratic votes, enough to block the bill from coming up on the floor. He notes that he almost blocked an appropriations bill last summer over an abortion issue in the District of Columbia.

Complicating matters is the fact that Stupak is out this week because of a death in his family.