By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Obama-Reid-Pelosi healthcare bill is, in the words of Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, "hanging by a thread."
The retiring Democrat told CNBC Monday that he was not at all sanguine that the House and Senate could resolve their differences to produce a single piece of legislation that would have the support of a congressional majority. "Everyone feels, I guess, to some degree who have been for this, that they would have liked something different, and that's not uncommon when you're considering an issue of this magnitude," Dodd said.
Frustrating the Democrats' plans for moving forward are a half-dozen issues on which the bills that passed the House and the Senate disagree--and none may be harder to bridge than the conflicting way in which the two bills treat the issue of tax-funded and taxpayer-supported abortions.
The House bill includes a provision added by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak that prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for private insurance plans that cover elective abortions and does not allow for the funding of elective abortions in the public option.
The Stupak Amendment is, its supporters say, "ironclad" while the version that passed the Senate is not only much weaker, it undermines what the House did.
The Senate language allows funds to go to private plans that offer coverage of elective abortions and creates new national health plans that would be administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that may offer similar coverage.
Stupak himself objects to the Senate language, telling the Detroit News that the Senate's approach to abortion coverage is unacceptable "because it greatly deviates from current law."
"Current law says no public funding for abortions or insurance policies that provide abortion coverage," Stupak said. "And under the Senate language, number one, abortion is a recognized benefit paid for by the federal government; number two, in the exchange, at least one plan, could be 10 plans, but at least one plan must have abortion coverage; number three, you still have the $1 per month, per enrollee (that the Senate bill requires everybody to pay in plans offering abortion coverage) that goes to reproductive services, including abortion."
A switch of three votes in the House or one in the Senate could be enough to kill the bill, or at least force Obama, Reid, and Pelosi to start all over again. But it's not at all clear that any of them have the stomach for that. The shifting poll data, which continues to show a majority of the American people are opposed to the bill pending in Congress, also reflects a change in attitudes about Obama and the Democratic majorities. Starting again would likely exacerbate the public's discomfort with the current congressional leadership and could even produce bigger changes in the composition of Congress than are currently expected.