Health care bill's fate still uncertain

Baptist Press
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Posted: Nov 06, 2009 5:30 PM
WASHINGTON (BP)--The Southern Baptist Convention's ethics entity urged members of Congress on the eve of a possible vote on health care reform to oppose the controversial bill that would authorize government funding of abortions.

The leadership of the House of Representatives has been working toward a Saturday vote on the Affordable Health Care for America Act, but Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters Friday it might be delayed until Sunday or Monday. He acknowledged the leadership is still seeking to line up the 218 votes needed to approve the legislation, according to The Washington Post.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which has consistently expressed its concerns about the leading health care proposals, sent a letter Friday to Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio. The ERLC followed up with a similar letter targeting 90 key Democrats in which it explained its concerns and encouraged votes to prevent the bill from reaching the House floor and, if necessary, to defeat the measure. All 177 Republicans are expected to vote against the bill, and opponents are hoping more than 40 Democrats will oppose it.

President Richard Land told the House members the ERLC had three primary concerns: 1) The bill's authorization of federal funds for abortion in the "public health insurance option," which would be managed by the federal government, and federal subsidies for private plans that cover abortion; 2) its establishment of a government-run option that would "drive other insurers out of business and cause many people to lose their current health insurance" and 3) a price tag of more than $1 trillion over 10 years that would increase taxes by an estimate of at least $700 billion.

In addition to urging opposition to the bill's passage, Land called for the representatives to vote against the "rule," which will govern floor consideration of the bill, if "it severely restricts members' rights to offer amendments," a step which is expected. Defeat of the rule would block the bill from being considered by the House.

The House Rules Committee is expected to agree to a rule Friday that would prevent consideration of a pro-life amendment championed by Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., that would prohibit federal money under the plan from paying for abortions. Instead, the committee may include a so-called pro-life compromise amendment from Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D.-Ind., that abortion opponents have criticized as a sham.

The Ellsworth proposal "is insufficient," Land said in his letter. "The Ellsworth Amendment would still permit the government to fund abortion by simply contracting with third-party entities to dispense funds for abortions. This deceptive attempt to allay pro-life concerns must be rejected."

To be satisfactory, Land said, the bill "must include explicit language excluding elective abortion services."

Ellsworth, who has had a nearly perfect pro-life voting record since entering the House in 2007, said his amendment is an effort "to ensure pro-life concerns are addressed." Other pro-lifers, however, say his proposal addresses none of their concerns and is noteworthy for its scheme to make it appear federal money is not paying for abortions by requiring the government to hire private contractors to disburse funds for the procedures.

Ellsworth's proposal is a "phony amendment," said Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., generally regarded as the leading pro-life advocate in the House. "Under the new arrangement, instead of employee issuing blood money checks for elective abortions, HHS will pay a contractor to issue checks for abortion on demand."

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, called Ellsworth's language "a political fig leaf made out of cellophane.... This is a money-laundering scheme -- a federally funded 'bag man' will deliver government funds to abortionists."

In addition to providing federal funds for abortions, the health care legislation will require enrollees in the "public option" to pay a monthly premium for abortion coverage, even if they have no intention of having an abortion, pro-lifers assert.

Stupak reiterated in a Thursday interview with CNSNews.com he still plans to rally fellow pro-life Democrats in an effort to defeat the rule, if a floor vote on his amendment is not permitted. Stupak and Democrats for Life of America told CNS last week there were from 40 to 43 House Democrats lined up to vote against the rule.

Pro-lifers are concerned, however, that House leaders may be able to use Ellsworth's amendment to persuade a few moderate or pro-life Democrats to vote for the rule and the bill.

For pro-lifers, there is basically no margin for error. There are 258 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House, after the special elections Tuesday. Pro-lifers need 218 votes to defeat the rule. That would require all 177 Republicans and 41 Democrats in order to block the legislation.

The ERLC issued an e-mail alert Nov. 5 asking recipients to encourage their House members to oppose the rule and, if needed, the legislation. (Representatives can be contacted through the capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) or online (http://capwiz.com/ethics/dbq/officials)).

The bill, which is about 2,000 pages in length, is H.R. 3962

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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