Doug Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, sent a fascinating email to Politico's Chris Frates on Thursday. In it, Johnson makes the case that Democrats cannot use the filibuster-proof reconciliation process to change the abortion language in the Senate's health care bill. (As I reported last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office agrees with this assessment.) Johnson also says that even if they could use reconciliation to change the abortion language, Democrats would have trouble coming to a workable compromise between the House and the Senate bills. Here's the most important bit:
[I]f enacted, the abortion-related provisions of the Senate bill would constitute the biggest expansions of abortion ever presented to either house of Congress, for an actual floor vote, since Roe v. Wade. The Senate bill would result in direct federal funding of abortion (for example, through federally funded community Health Centers, under language added by the Reid "manager's amendment"), federal subsidies for private abortion insurance (including plans administered by the federal government), and federal pro-abortion mandates. NRLC summarized the six or seven major abortion-related problems with the Senate-passed bill in a three-page letter to U.S. House members that is posted here: http://www.nrlc.org/AHC/HouseLetteronAbortionProvisions.html
NRLC and our 50 state affiliates have spent the last six weeks educating House members about these issues. A substantial number of pro-life Democrats in the House, including some Members not mentioned on the various published lists, have made it clear that they are not going to vote for the Senate-passed bill, with or without a "sidecar" reconciliation bill, because of the abortion problems (and, in some cases, because of other problems).
Johnson is directly challenging what Nancy Pelosi and other top House Democrats have been saying—that abortion isn't a substantial obstacle to passing the Senate bill through the House. When Pelosi met with liberal columnists late last month, she pointedly did not include abortion on a long list of potential bill-killers. Johnson is saying, "you're wrong—we've made sure this issue will kill the bill." They can't both be right—either Pelosi will find enough pro-life Democrats who will prioritize the health care bill over abortion politics, or she won't.
Most of the staffers I've talked to about this don't think NLRC and Rep. Bart Stupak (the sponsor of the House bill's anti-abortion provision) have a big block of Democrats ready to switch their votes and oppose the bill. But the margin for original passage was small, and unless Pelosi can find some no-votes who will switch to yes, just a couple yes-to-nos would be enough to sink health care reform.