By Molly K. Hooper - 11/10/09 01:09 AM EST
GOP leaders were surprised late Friday night when Democratic leaders decided to allow a vote on the anti-abortion-rights language crafted by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).
The GOP members suggested the conference vote “present” on the Stupak amendment, knowing it did not have the Democratic votes to pass.
“If you strip government-funded abortion from the bill then it becomes a much easier for Democrats to vote for the bill. If you are a Democrat from a conservative district [or a] religious district, a swing district, you’d rather have to vote for a bill that doesn’t have the government-funded abortions,” a source involved in the discussions said.
The strategy of voting present had been successfully employed before by House Republicans. In 2008, most of the conference voted present on a war-funding bill. The strategy effectively killed the bill; the measure was defeated 141-149 as 132 GOP legislators voted present.
But unlike that bill, leaders did not have a lot of time to discuss voting present on an amendment being pushed by Catholic bishops and right-leaning groups staunchly opposed to abortion rights. Moreover, some of these groups made it clear they were “scoring” the measure so anything less than a yes vote could jeopardize a member’s perfect anti-abortion-rights rating.
In the end, Shadegg was the lone Republican to vote present on the Stupak amendment. Sixty-four Democrats and 176 Republicans voted for the amendment. The underlying healthcare bill then passed 220-215.
“When the Stupak language is stripped in conference, and [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] will strip it, the supposedly pro-life Democrats will be pressured by Pelosi and Obama to vote yes on the conference report more intensely than ever. When Pelosi and [President Barack] Obama are in their final press to enact the bill into law, they will tell these purportedly ‘pro-life’ Democrats they’re safe from attack by Right to Life because they voted for the Stupak amendment,” Shadegg wrote in a statement posted on his website Sunday.
Some GOP officials noted that Stupak promised to vote yes on healthcare reform if he was granted a floor vote on his amendment — even if his amendment had lost.
These sources argue that the underlying bill would have likely passed regardless of whether Republicans had voted present.
Others say that abortion-rights opponents in the Democratic Caucus did not make that vow, pointing out that just a few more Democratic “no” votes could have killed the bill.