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ERLC urges phone calls to reps. on health care bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity called March 11 for opponents of a health-care bill to contact their representatives immediately as Congress moves toward what may be decisive action on the controversial legislation.

On the same day, Democratic leaders said they are unable to address pro-life concerns within their own party over abortion funding in the measure and will try to pass it without changes to the abortion language.

The developments occurred as the House of Representatives nears possible action the week of March 14-20 on a Senate-approved, health-care reform bill. President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress are seeking House passage of the Senate bill to be followed by approval by both chambers of another bill to “fix” problems in the Senate version.

The White House had called for a vote on the legislation by March 18, when Obama was scheduled to leave on an overseas trip. The administration announced March 12, however, the president had delayed his departure until March 21 in order for him to be in Washington in an attempt to gain passage of the bill.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in an e-mail alert, “[L]iberals are desperately twisting arms to try to pass this terrible bill.”

“If this bill passes, it will mean federal funding of abortion, a nearly half-trillion-dollar cut to Medicare, heavy taxes on individuals and businesses, higher premiums, and strong government control that will inevitably lead to a decline in patient care,” Land said. “Even if the House does agree to some fixes, the health care bill cannot be adequately repaired.”

Land’s e-mail cited 37 Democratic representatives who voted against the House-approved bill in November and now “are under tremendous pressure” to support the Senate bill. It is “imperative” these House members hear from opponents of the Senate measure, he said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Rep. Henry Waxman of California said March 11 the Democratic leadership had decided they would not be able to revise the abortion language in the Senate version through a secondary, or “reconciliation,” bill.

“I don’t know that we’ve made a collective judgment on it, but I think [Waxman’s] comments are accurate that we believe it’s not possible to do it through reconciliation,” Hoyer said according to Roll Call.

Reconciliation, which requires only 51 votes for Senate passage instead of a super-majority of 60, is intended to be limited to budget issues, hence the problem with dealing with abortion in such a legislative process.

Waxman and Hoyer both said they believe House Democrats may have enough votes for passage without the support of at least some pro-life members of their party who object to the Senate bill.

“Many of the pro-life members are going to support passage of the health care bill,” Waxman said, according to the Associated Press. “They’re either satisfied enough with the Senate provision, or they decide that that’s as much as they’re going to get and they don’t want to defeat health care.”

Hoyer said, “We’re working at it and I think the answer is yes, I think we can” pass the bill without the support of pro-life Democrats.

Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan congressman who leads pro-life Democrats in the House, questioned their vote counting.

“I don’t see how they’re going to get the votes to pass health care, no matter what procedure they use, if they want to do it by March 18th,” Stupak told Fox News a day before the White House announced Obama would not leave the country until March 21.

According to Politico.com, “Members and staff don’t think Pelosi has the 216 votes she needs to pass reform at this point, but most believe she’s close.”

The bill passed, 220-215, in November, but Democrats have lost three “yes” votes since then due to either retirement or death.

Stupak sponsored a successful amendment to the House health-care bill that barred federal funding of abortion. The Senate, however, refused to vote on a Stupak-like amendment. While some Democrats contend the Senate language prohibits federal funding of abortion, Stupak and many other pro-lifers contend it will permit such support for the practice.

Current federal policy prevents tax dollars from funding insurance plans that cover abortion. For instance, Medicaid is prohibited from covering elective abortions, as are insurance plans for federal employees. Congress’ own insurance plans, for instance, cannot by law cover elective abortions. That would change under the Senate bill, which would set up a segregation of funding that Stupak and other pro-lifers say is unacceptable.

“You will find in there the federal government would directly subsidize abortions, plus every enrollee in the Office of Personnel Management plan has to pay a minimum of $1 per month for reproductive rights, which includes abortion,” Stupak said of the Senate proposal March 4 on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Pro-lifers contend that the country’s abortion rate could go up if the bill passes, because women who are either uninsured or who have policies that don’t cover abortion will be able to purchase policies that do cover it, thanks to federal subsidies.

Pro-lifers also are concerned about a provision in the Senate version that would give $7 billion to the country’s 1,200-plus community health centers.

The Senate language places no restriction on the use of funds provided to the health centers, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, in a March 5 analysis. “Two pro-abortion groups, the Reproductive Health Access Project and the Abortion Access Project, are already actively campaigning for Community Health Centers to perform elective abortions,” Johnson said.

“When all of the pro-abortion provisions are considered in total, the Senate bill is the most pro-abortion single piece of legislation that has ever come to the House floor for a vote,” since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, Johnson said. “Any House member who votes for the Senate health bill is casting a career-defining pro-abortion vote.”

The 37 Democrats Land asked foes of the health-care bill to contact are Reps. John Adler of New Jersey, Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Brian Baird of Washington, John Barrow of Georgia, John Boccieri of Ohio, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Rick Boucher of Virginia, Allen Boyd of Florida, Bobby Bright of Alabama, Ben Chandler of Kentucky, Travis Childers of Mississippi, Artur Davis of Alabama, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, Chet Edwards of Texas, Bart Gordon of Tennessee, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania, Larry Kissell of North Carolina, Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Jim Marshall of Georgia, Betsy Markey of Colorado, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Michael McMahon of New York, Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, Walt Minnick of Idaho, Scott Murphy of New York, Glenn Nye of Virginia, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Mike Ross of Arkansas, Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Tanner of Tennessee, Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Harry Teague of New Mexico.

Contacts to representatives may be made through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or the House’s website at www.house.gov.

The ERLC has said health-care reform is needed. Its guidelines for such reform may be found in the article “Fifteen Principles for Successful Health Care Reform” at http://erlc.com/documents/pdf/20091110-fifteen-principles-final.pdf.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press. Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article.