Senate Debate Expected To Turn To Abortion
The issue that sharply divided the House during its consideration of health-care legislation is threatening to derail the Senate version of the bill, Bloomberg reports. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has said he will help filibuster the bill unless Democrats adopt tougher language restricting federal funds from paying for abortions, and may offer an amendment to that effect. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., appeared poised to accommodate Nelson, because Democrats need all 60 members of their caucus to support the bill's passage (Jensen and Litvan, 12/4).
A similar amendment passed in the House of Representatives, "angering the pro-choice lobby," The (U.K.) Daily Telegraph reports. Liberal Democrats who voted in favor of the overall bill had hoped that the tough abortion language "would not make it to the final version of the bill," but if Nelson's amendment is successful, that may be less likely (Spillius, 12/3).
For now, the amendment doesn't appear to have the support needed to pass, The Hill reports. The Republican whip, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said, "Most Republicans will [support the bill] but I don't think that will be enough to carry it through, it's a 60-vote margin." The Hill explains, "Republicans control only 40 seats, which means Nelson would have to pick up the support of at least 19 Democrats (or 18 plus one of two independents), an unlikely scenario given strong opposition from the Democratic base" (Bolton, 12/3).
The earlier debate in the House was swayed in part by a vocal corps of Catholic bishops appointed under Pope John Paul II, NPR reports. On Nov. 6, the night before the House of Representatives voted on heath care, Speaker Nancy Pelosi received some visitors. One was Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, an anti-abortion Democrat, who wanted to amend the House bill to permanently strip federal funding for abortion. ... Stupak brought with him two representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said they would not support any bill without that amendment." The envoy succeeded, and "as Stupak later put it, 'We want to send a message: If you start messing with abortion and health care, you've got a problem'" (Bradley Hagerty, 12/3).
In the Senate, too, the "abortion issue sharply divides the Democratic caucus, with some senators - including Reid - historically supportive of limits on the procedure. Abortion-rights supporters are vehemently opposed to any such restrictions," CQ Politics reports (12/3).