Anti-abortion rights Democrats working on a vote deal with Senate on bill

At least six anti-abortion rights Democrats are open to supporting the healthcare bill if they can get a guarantee from the Senate that it will move separate legislation containing the House abortion language, one of those Democratic holdouts said Friday.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), one of Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) gang of staunch opponents of the Senate abortion language, said they are in discussions with senators and House leaders to secure such a commitment.

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“There could be some kind of commitment from the other body to act on this later … to ensure that the Senate language does not remain law,” he said.

Rahall said that securing such an agreement could open up six to 10 members, including himself, to voting for the Senate bill and reconciliation language.

He told the Charleston Daily Mail he will vote no unless abortion language is changed.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), another member who remains a no because of the Senate abortion language, on Thursday hinted that discussions along the lines Rahall mentioned were in the works.

House Democratic leaders have made it abundantly clear in recent days that they need as many yes votes as they can get. And the emergence of the Stupak amendment came at the eleventh hour of the November House healthcare debate, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a leading abortion-rights Democrat, determined that she could not muster the votes to pass the House bill without Stupak and his allies on board.

In recent days, a number of anti-abortion-rights Democrats have announced their newfound support of the Senate abortion language, and have handed Pelosi their votes on the healthcare bill. But Stupak has said he has as many as a dozen votes lined up against it.

Rahall said the remaining opponents were at this point looking for “some type of language we can rely on in the Senate” and a “promise [from the Senate] to act in the future.”

The chairman would not say whether discussions between Stupak and Senate Democrats have risen to the leadership level, but he did say that he and Stupak are talking to House leaders, including Pelosi.

Asked how those discussions were going, Rahall said, “That’s undeterminable at this point.”

The anti-abortion-rights Democrats view the Saturday Rules Committee markup of the bill as an opportunity to set an up-or-down vote on the Stupak abortion language in a way that would not make it part of the bill itself. Abortion-rights supporters have been cool to the idea, despite the likelihood that such language would not find enough support in the Senate to become law.

Pelosi, however, said she is unaware of any such idea. "I haven't heard any of that," she said at a press conference Friday, though she conceded, "There are members who may be talking." Pelosi also indicated that, on abortion and other areas under dispute among Democrats, the legislation will undergo nothing more than "technical" adjustments before the planned vote on Sunday.

"There will be no further changes in the bill," she said.

Pelosi reiterated her case that the underlying healthcare reform bill does not undermine existing law banning federal funding of abortions.

"This bill is about healthcare, not abortion," she said.

Rahall expressed confidence that even a guarantee of action would produce the end result that he and others are seeking.

“It’s pretty clear that [the Stupak amendment] is the will of the House,” he said.

In a Wednesday interview with The Hill, however, Stupak said he was dubious of promises made by any Democrats.

“Right now, they got the trifecta: They got the House, they got the Senate and they got a president,” he said. “So basically, they said, ‘Your right-to-life amendments are over.’ And they’ve proven that.

“So one of the offers is, ‘Why won’t you just drop this for now? We’re going to work on it later. This thing doesn’t kick in till 2018,” Stupak continued. “Well, jeez, after you tell us no to our face — ‘You’re never going to get anything’ — why would I suddenly think you’re going to give me something now? I’m a little slow, but I’m not that slow.”