Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives appear to have abandoned their efforts to persuade a small band of pro-life members of their party to vote for a Senate bill that contains numerous provisions that subsidize elective abortion. Instead, the Democratic leaders are daring those pro-life members not to vote for the permissive Senate bill and take what they believe will be heat for defeating health reform. In something of a reverse grief cycle, Speaker of the House Pelosi has moved from bargaining to anger. It remains to be seen whether the death of the health care reform she favors lies along that axis or whether a resurrection is at hand.
The stakes could not be clearer for the “Stupak 12,” a group of House members largely from the industrial heartland who either have served in Congress for decades or who occupy seats that, though they may “swing” between the two major parties, don’t swing on the abortion funding issue.
District 1 of Ohio is a case in point. The seat is now held by first-term Democratic Rep. Steve Driehaus, who voted for both the comprehensive Stupak-Pitts pro-life amendment and for the House health care bill. Driehaus is facing a reelection challenge from the candidate he defeated in 2008, Steve Chabot. Chabot also strongly opposes abortion but is a declared foe of the massive health care reform legislation. Cincinnati is one of the most conservative areas in the state and it was long represented by former Cincinnati Mayors Tom Luken and his son Charlie Luken, Democrats who, like Chabot and Driehaus, consistently voted for abortion funding limits like the Hyde amendment.
Strong opposition to federal payments for abortion permeates Ohio 1 and other districts now held by the Stupak 12. These members of Congress are likely aware that throughout the entire history of the abortion funding debates in Congress, it has been axiomatic that the House of Representatives has favored tighter limits than the generally more permissive Senate. Repeatedly since 1976, when the Hyde amendment was first adopted, the House of Representatives has initiated restrictions on abortion funding on the appropriations bills that, constitutionally, must originate in that chamber. In those years when attempts have been made to liberalize the funding law, it was invariably the Senate that pushed for expansion against strong House resistance.
It’s the height of irony therefore that President Obama and the Congressional Democratic leadership have been asking the Stupak dozen to accept that the Senate will rescue them politically by adopting abortion funding limits that will be omitted when the Senate bill is approved on the House floor. It is doubly ironic because, once Stupak and company have presumably abandoned their bedrock principles, the Senate bill would go directly to the President for his signature. Senators who favor both abortion funding and Obamacare will have achieved their goal and will have no incentive whatsoever to adopt a reconciliation bill that contradicts their own policy goals.
Considerations like this have kept the House of Representatives voting time and again over the last 35 years to insist on its position on abortion funding and compel the Senate to give ground in search of a compromise. Speaker Pelosi now seems to have recognized this fact and chosen to move on without as many as a dozen Democratic members she and President Obama desperately need.