Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak said yesterday at a townhall in his home state, "I'm more optimistic than I was a week ago" that a deal could be reached to pass a health care bill that bans public funding of abortion. Some speculated that this meant Stupak was ready to cave. "Obviously they don’t know me," Stupak said in an interview this afternoon with THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "If I didn’t" cave in November, "why would I do it now after all the crap I’ve been through?"
"Everyone’s going around saying there’s a compromise—there’s no such thing," Stupak said. What's changed between this week and last, Stupak went on, is that he had his first real conversation with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Congressman Henry Waxman about fixing the bill.
But Stupak made one thing very clear: While he's optimistic, there's a lot of confusion about how the House would structure a bill that he could vote for. Stupak says "the majority party can get it done. Where there’s a will there’s a way." But: "No one has said here's how you do it, here's the legislative scheme."
Stupak affirmed that he will not settle for an agreement to pass the bill now and fix the bill's problems on abortion later: "If they say 'we’ll give you a letter saying we'll take care of this later,' that’s not acceptable because later never comes."
Stupak highlighted other problems with the bill: The president's proposal has not been translated into legislative language and it still leaves some special deals in place. "If you look at the President’s proposal," Stupak said, "it says that the Cornhusker agreement is out, but the Louisiana Purchase is in."
"Members don’t have a whole lot of appetite to vote for the Senate bill as a stand alone bill--that’s for sure," Stupak said. "If you're going to correct these inequities in the Senate bill, you better tie bar it to something. No one wants to vote for a freestanding bill so they can be accused of voting for a special deal for Nebraska on Medicaid."
The president still hasn’t put forth his proposal. I mean, other than the 11 pages [of changes], we’ve seen nothing in writing. It’s different than what the Senate did. So do they take three [measures] and merge it into one and stick it in a bill called reconciliation, or just do the Senate bill as a stand alone?
“You have to tie-bar it or substitute it or something," Stupak said of the legislation. By "tie-bar," Stupak means that all the fixes, including his amendment on abortion, would pass or fail all at the same time. Stupak says that congressional leaders are "going back and forth in different ways" to find a compromise. But again, "it is so confusing," he said, "on what the parliamentary procedures are going to be" to make the fixes.
Stupak said he has not yet spoken to the president, who invited him to the Russian opera last week. Asked if he was a big fan of the opera, Stupak, who represents a district encompassing the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, laughed and said: "No, I’m not a fan of opera, especially not Russian opera because I wouldn't understand a thing."
Stupak said that White House officials are "trying to get face time with members to convince them to vote for a bill that no one has seen in writing."
"The point I was trying to make" by relaying the opera story, Stupak said, "is that the White House is pulling out all of the stops trying to get members to commit to voting for health care. I continue to say to the White House: Put forth your proposal in writing so that members can see it. No member is so weak on this issue that just because they got to go to the opera they’re going to vote for health care."
Stupak emphasized that his coalition of pro-life Democrats is sticking together: "My numbers remain firm at 12. These are 12 who voted for it [in November] who will not vote for it unless we resolve this issue."