Congressman Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who had resisted backing the health-care reform legislation because he argued that was not specific enough in limiting federal funding for abortions, announced Sunday afternoon that he will vote for the bill.
Stupak’s move assured that Democrats have more than the needed 216 votes to win House approval for the landmark legislation.
“We’ve been able to come up with an agreement to respect the sanctity of life on health care reform,” Stupak said at an afternoon press conference, where he was joined by several Democrats who until Sunday had refused to back the bill.
The key congressman’s decision to vote “yes” came after President Obama issued an executive order affirming that existing ban on the spending of federal funds to cover the costs of abortions would be maintained. (Under the more than three-decades old Hyde amendment, federal money cannot pay for abortions.)
The National Organization for Women objected that the president had broken faith with American women — offering a reminder that the legislation falls far short of what progressives who backed Obama’s election had hoped for.
But the moves assure that Obama and the Democrats will pass a health-care bill.
Stupak told a Sunday afternoon press conference that the the deal that led to the executive order would win “eight of nine” additional Democratic votes for the health-care reform bill.
Confirming the the fight was done — except for the voting — Stupak said of the forces backing the legislation: “We’re well past 216.”
Stupak’s announcement, which was made amid a flurry of endorsements of the legislation, came as the House debate over final passage of bill opened with a measure of chaos Sunday. An anti-reform heckler was removed from the chamber’s gallery and Democratic leaders chided Republican colleagues for egging on disruptive protesters.
Congressman Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, shouted at Congressman Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican and former House Majority Leader who remains a key leader of his party’s forces, to get GOP members to stop acting out. “That’s why you get this kind of virulence and hatred,” declared Frank.
It was a raucous but not particularly unsettling start to what could be a long afternoon — and evening — of debating and voting.
Where do things stand?
It was always unlikely — extremely unlikely if you know anything about the woman’s political instincts — that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, would have decided to go ahead with Sunday’s session if she did not have the 216 votes needed to pass the legislation.
And evidence that things are going Pelosi’s way came Sunday with Stupak’s announcement.
The Michigan congressman’s move followed an announcement by Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat who had been a holdout, that she would vote for the bill.
No ally of Pelosi, Kaptur had tweaked the leadership on the issue of abortion rights, pressing the speaker and her team to allow a vote on specific restrictions against federal funding of reproductive-health services.
Speaking to a local television station in Toledo, Kaptur confirmed she would back the legislation that she said “addresses a serious problem before the country today.”
Kaptur said she received promises Saturday that abortion foes in the House Democratic Caucus would with President Obama to ensure “that existing law is maintained.”