Pro-life Democrats, including Illinois' own Dan Lipinski and Jery Costello, could torpedo health care reform.
We made a prediction last month: If any members of Illinois Democratic congressional delegation eventually flipped on health care reform, it would not have to do with slight modifications to the bill's insurance reforms or taxing and spending mechanics. Rather, it would be over abortion. Specifically, Democratic supportive of the Stupak amendment would back away from any health care bill that did not impose tight restrictions on abortions that could be offered through any private insurance plan purchased using government subsidies. According to House Republicans, we might have been right.
Since losing their 60-vote-majority in the Senate (thanks to the Massachusetts special election), Democratic leaders and the White House have spent weeks debating how to move forward on health care reform. The plan they developed -- a bit inelegant, but effective and with precedent -- would involve the Senate approving slight alterations to its original bill using the budget reconciliation process. Those changes would placate enough House Democrats critical of the Senate's affordability provisions, allowing the lower chamber to pass the upper chamber's original bill intact, eliminating the need for another cloture vote (and the GOP-led filibuster that would come with it).
But there's a catch. Because reconciliation is reserved for issues that affect the federal budget, the parliamentarian might not allow any of the Senate bill's controversial abortion language -- which is far more progressive than the Stupak amendment in the House version -- to be tweaked. "If it’s strictly a prohibition against federal funds going towards abortions, it's probably okay," budget expert Stan Collender told Ezra Klein in late January. "Simply a regulation, probably not."
On the eve of the bipartisan health care summit, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) the House Minority Whip released a memo naming 12 Democrats who he thinks will defect if forced to approve a Senate reconciliation bill. Illinois Reps. Jerry Costello and Dan Lipinksi are included. And right on schedule, Lipinski showed his hand, telling the SouthtownStar yesterday that he doesn't see "any way" health care reform gets through this year:
"People don't have coverage and changes need to be made, but at this point I think that the best that we can hope for this year are incremental changes," Lipinski said in a telephone interview. "Politically, I don't see any way that a comprehensive health care bill can be passed this year."
It's pretty clear where he stands.
Even if negotiators are able to modify the abortion provisions, health reform isn't in the clear. Pro-choice lawmakers like Rep. Jan Schakowsky now say they will oppose health care legislation that contains anything resembling the awful Stupak amendment. They were forced to swallow it once. It's not clear if they can stomach it again.
Abortion is the one sticking point the White House and Democratic leaders have refused to discuss. The reason is clear: When members of your own caucus are willing to torpedo the entire reform effort because one provision does not meet their exact specifications, there's no easy fix.