How Stupak could still make it into the health care reform bill

In the past week, much has been written about Senator Harry Reid and how he rode in on his white horse to save women from the evils of the Stupak Amendment. While it may seem like some of the Stupak-Pitt storm has cleared, women’s rights advocates should keep in mind that the awful amendment that banned federally sponsored insurance plans from covering abortions could be reincarnated during what remains of this never-ending process. One of the perks of studying public policy as a graduate student is that I have access to a lovely network of folks who live for the procedural aspects of policymaking. As such, here are some notes from conversations in the past week about the possible ways Stupak’s Amendment could have a second coming.

It should first be noted that Stupak’s Amendment could be added at any given moment during Senate debate over the next few weeks. It is true that Harry Reid can limit the number of amendments that can come forth. However, a Stupak comeback is still possible.

If a bill passes the Senate without this dreadful anti-abortion language, the bill must then go to a conference committee. This committee probably has the most influence over what the final bill that goes before the House and Senate will look like. While this is another place where the Stupak could be added back in by a committee member, there is one thing that might prevent this. Harry Reid gets to name which Democratic senators sit on the committee and Nancy Pelosi gets to name which Democratic members of the House sit on this committee. The respective Republican minority leaders for the House and Senate choose the Republicans. Since moderate House Dems were the leaders of the Stupak Amendment, it’s highly unlikely that Pelosi would appoint them to the Conference Committee given the damage they have done. Also, the number of Dems and Republicans on the committee will be assigned in proportion to their representation in the House and Senate. This new bill will pass the Conference Committee by a majority vote. Thus, this hurdle will also favor Democrats.

After this committee, the bill goes back out to the House and Senate where they vote on the bill independently. Members of the House who are opposed to the bill can offer a “motion to recommit.” This involves rejecting the bill as a whole. However, this sometimes comes with instructions that involve amendments where a House member can say that they will reconsider the bill immediately with changes that are stipulated in the motion to recommit. These “changes” can involve something along the lines of a Stupak Amendment — or something worse — to be included. However, there is only one motion to recommit throughout the entire debate process in the House. And it’s really anyone’s guess what political dynamics will exist then that would make House members more prone to accept such a change.

Considering all these things, it is of the utmost importance to get involved by taking action. You can learn more about the rules I have summarized here and here. I’m grateful that Reid has taken leadership on gutting the anti-abortion language in the House bill. 

But the worst could be yet to come.

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