By Lori Montgomery, Paul Kane and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 20, 2010; 4:03 PM
House Democrats are working with the White House to craft an executive order that would clarify President Obama's intention to maintain a long-standing ban on federal funding of abortion, congressional Democrats said.
The effort was part of a hurried campaign by House leaders on Saturday to persuade a pivotal bloc of antiabortion Democrats to support far-reaching health insurance reforms.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others huddled in a suite of offices just off the House floor, trying to come up with language that would satisfy six to 10 lawmakers, mostly Rust Belt Catholics, who voted for an earlier version of the health-care package but have threatened to vote against the $940 billion compromise expected to come before the House on Sunday. Those lawmakers have argued that the measure would open the door to federal funding for elective abortions. Democratic leaders counter that the measure would do no such thing.
"The intent is obviously to express what we said all along: that we believe the language that has been included in both bills seeks to accomplish . . . that there will be no use of public funds for abortion," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said upon emerging from the meeting. Asked whether the document could win over a significant number of the holdouts, Hoyer said: "I'm hopeful."
The talks follow a decision by Pelosi to reject a suggestion that she hold a separate vote Sunday to strengthen abortion provisions in the compromise package. The speaker told reporters that she rejected the proposal from Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), a leader of the antiabortion faction.
Asked if she would permit such a vote, Pelosi said no, adding that she also would reject similar demands from liberals still hoping to advance their favorite causes.
"Not on abortion, not on public option, not on single payer, not on anything," Pelosi said. She later added: "The bill is the bill."
Democrats are close to securing the 216 votes needed to push the two-part legislation to final passage. House leaders said they will vote first on a package of revisions to the Senate health bill that was approved on Christmas Eve, then take up the Senate bill itself. Antiabortion Democrats represent by far the largest bloc of holdouts.
Earlier Saturday, Pelosi confirmed that an executive order on abortion "might be a possibility."
Those close to the talks said it is likely at the very least to restate Obama's commitment to upholding the Hyde Amendment, a 32-year-old provision that bars the use of public funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman. Rep. Dianna DeGette (Colo.), a leader among Democrats who support abortion rights, said she would support that option, so long as Stupak's provision is not given another vote. "That would be fine by me," she told reporters Saturday of the executive order.
Stupak's office issued a statement declaring he would like the talks to continue: "Congressman Stupak remains open to working with Speaker Pelosi and the President to reach an agreement that would maintain current law which prohibits federal funding of abortions and health plans that cover abortion."
Pelosi remained determined to ensure that, by the time the vote is held Sunday, she would prevail. "We'll have the votes when we bring the bill to the floor," she said.