House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Saturday rejected an offer to hold a separate vote on abortion provisions in the sweeping health-care legislation, setting the stage for the final talks with the last Democratic holdouts.
Pelosi told reporters that she rejected the solution offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.), the leading antiabortion Democrat who proposed passing separate, strict language that would clarify that no federal funds in the proposed legislation could go toward abortion coverage.
Asked if a vote was coming, Pelosi declared no extra votes would be held to appease antiabortion Democrats or liberals still hopeful for adding their favored 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 for a majority when the vote is held Sunday evening, but the last bloc of holdouts are antiabortion Democrats. President Obama and Pelosi have not given up on most of those lawmakers, hoping to win over most of the roughly 10 outstanding votes.
Three antiabortion Democrats from the Rust Belt huddled in an office suite of Pelosi's, emerging to say they were still working on an arrangement to satisfy their needs so they could support the legislation. These last holdouts all supported the first health-care draft in November and are supportive of the new $940 billion compromise, if the abortion matter can be settled.
One possible solution would be the issuance of an executive order by Obama that restated the commitment to adhering to the 32-year ban on federal funds going to abortion services except in the case of rape or incest. Rep. Dianna DeGette (Colo.), the leading abortion-rights Democrat, voiced support for Obama taking such an option, so long as the Stupak provision — which she believes is worded so strongly it would restrict abortion rights — is not given another vote.
“That would be fine by me,” she told reporters Saturday.
Pelosi said an executive order on abortion “might be a possibility” shortly before disappearing with senior lawmakers into her ceremonial offices. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), one of the antiabortion lawmakers Pelosi is hoping to persuade to vote for the health bill, said the group was hashing out what exactly an executive order might say.
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.”