House Dem: Conference committee will strip Stupak amendment

posted at 1:36 pm on November 9, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

With the opposition to ObamaCare wondering whether Republicans should have voted “present” on the Stupak amendment rather than let it pass, The Hill reports that Democrats expect the amendment to get stripped in committee anyway.  Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) says that a conference committee will remove the addendum that has so many Democrats unhappy with the House version of health-care reform — and that provided enough screen for Blue Dogs to jump on the bandwagon at the last minute:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the Democrats’ chief deputy whip in the House, said that she and other pro-choice lawmakers would work to strip the amendment included in the House health bill that bars federal funding from going to subsidize abortions.

“I am confident that when it comes back from the conference committee that that language won’t be there,” Wasserman Schultz said during an appearance on MSNBC. “And I think we’re all going to be working very hard, particularly the pro-choice members, to make sure that’s the case.”

This comes as no big surprise, but it does highlight the question of whether Republicans should have supported the Stupak amendment in the first place. John McCormack sets up the question, and then answers it:

Although at least a handful of Republicans entertained the idea of voting present, Shadegg was the only one to do so. The GOP leadership released a statement that seemed to respond to those who wanted to bring down the amendment. “To be clear, the Stupak-Pitts Amendment’s passage is the right thing to do,” Representatives Boehner, Cantor, and Pence said in a statement. “We believe you just don’t play politics with life.”

There are many problems with the Shadegg/Americans for Prosperity gambit, but the most important one is that it simply wouldn’t have worked. The bill would have passed anyway. In fact, in the long-run, defeating Stupak would have hurt chances of defeating Obamacare.

Even Stupak didn’t claim he would vote against the Pelosi bill if he lost the vote on the amendment.  He threatened to bring a coalition of 40 Democrats to defeat the bill if he didn’t get a vote on the amendment.  He told his own constituents two weeks ago that he would likely vote for ObamaCare even with abortion subsidies, as long as he got a chance at an up-or-down vote.

Had the Republicans voted “present” and defeated the amendment, Stupak and his coalition would have provided enough votes to pass the bill — with the abortion subsidies.  The GOP managed to force the Democrats to abandon the abortion industry in its vote, which is why Wasserman-Schultz is now demanding that a conference committee strip the provision from the bill.  As Greg Sargent reports, she’s not alone, either:

In a move that will intensify the coming war over how to treat abortion in the health care bill, more than three dozen House Dems have signed a letter to Nancy Pelosi firmly pledging to vote against the bill if it contains an anti-abortion amendment.

A source sends over a working copy of the letter without the signatories, and a source says it currently bears the signatures of 41 House Dems. They’re all vowing to vote No on a bill if it contains the Stupak amendment — enough to sink the bill …

That’s unequivocal, with no wiggle room. The Washington Post reported this morning that Rep. Diana DeGette had collected 40 signatures vowing a No vote, without noting the language of their vow or how this would be communicated.

That sets up a big confrontation, and holds the Stupak coalition’s feet to the fire on an eventual conference report vote.  Stupak won’t get a chance to offer an amendment to add the language back into the bill; conference reports get straight up-or-down votes.  Either the pro-life Democrats have to vote for federal subsidies for abortions, which will mean an end to their legislative careers, or vote against the ObamaCare product and force Democrats to start over from scratch.

Republicans can make that argument only because they supported the Stupak amendment, even against what appeared to be their longer-term interests at that moment.  They acted on principle and can now argue that the Stupak coalition must respond in kind or be exposed as the worst kind of hypocrites in election challenges next year — challenges which that Stupak town-hall meeting shows will resonate.  Had they tried playing the legislative game with the Stupak amendment, this rift among Democrats shown by Sargent would never have appeared, and they would have lost the ability to highlight a backroom effort to rid the bill of an amendment that received more votes than the bill itself.

Voting to approve the Stupak amendment was a moment where strategy and principle converged.  It was not only a good tactic, it was the right thing to do.

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