Determined to block President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, Senate Republican leaders signaled Tuesday that they plan to object to any abortion language included in a proposed reconciliation package — even if they agree with the provision on policy grounds.
House Democrats who oppose abortion rights, whose votes could prove crucial to passing Obama’s health care reform package, have threatened to withhold their support if language limiting federal funding of abortions in the underlying $871 billion Senate bill isn’t strengthened in reconciliation. But Senate Republicans and even some reconciliation experts argue the procedure’s narrow guidelines don’t allow for policies like abortion to be addressed.
Republicans, hoping to sow doubts among House Democrats about reconciliation’s prospects for passing the Senate, revealed Tuesday they intend to raise procedural objections over any abortion language that shows up in a reconciliation package — even if it toughens prohibitions against federal funding. Specifically, Republican Senators plan to raise a budget point of order, a procedural move objecting to the reconciliation process that requires 60 votes to defeat.
“If there is anyone left in the House who believes Senate Republicans will help carry their water on abortion or anything else so they can vote in favor of the health bill, they are radically misreading our Conference,” a senior Republican Senate aide said Tuesday. “Republicans intend to raise every point of order and will not waive a single one regardless of merit to assist Democrats in passing this $2.5 trillion health care boondoggle.”
The Democrats’ plan for enacting a final health care reform bill calls for the House to move first by approving both the original Senate bill and a reconciliation package of adjustments to that legislation. The Senate would then bring up the reconciliation package. Under reconciliation rules, the GOP cannot filibuster, and only 51 votes are required for passage, rather than the 60 needed to end or forestall a filibuster.
Abortion remains a major point of contention as Democrats attempt to coalesce around health care reform. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is currently negotiating with House Democrats who oppose abortion rights over abortion language that would be added to the proposed health care reconciliation package, and there have been some indications that this issue might be resolved.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as part of an ongoing GOP message strategy, warned House Democrats that anything they agree to in their chamber could fall by the wayside once reconciliation hits the Senate floor.
“The House Democrats will have to decide whether they want to trust the Senate to fix their political problem,” McConnell told reporters. He added that by voting for the underlying Senate bill, House Democrats will be on record “endorsing” several of that legislation’s provisions that have become unpopular with the public, including measures to provide additional Medicaid funding to Nebraska and Louisiana.