Senate Committee Rejects Anti-Abortion Amendment

A proposal to strengthen restrictions on federal funding for abortion rejected.

Sept. 30, 2009— -- A day after the Senate Finance Committee voted down a pair of Democratic public option proposals to be included in health care reform legislation, members voted against a Republican measure strengthening anti-abortion provisions.

By a 13-10 vote, the amendment to restrict federal funding for abortions failed today.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who proposed the amendment, expressed disappointment, but said, "I will fight tooth and nail to make sure once this bill gets to the floor, it is clear in the language that taxpayers' dollars will not be used to fund abortions through the new programs nor through subsidies created in the bill."

The committee also voted against Hatch's proposal to prohibit the federal government, state governments and local governments from forcing health providers, such as hospitals and physicians, to provide abortions.

"I do not feel that any persons with deeply held religious or moral beliefs should be put in any situation where they would be forced to perform abortions," Hatch said in a written statement.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was the only Republican to vote on the side of Democrats.

The health care bill being debated by the committee was proposed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., two weeks ago. It would require that at least one plan in a health insurance exchange system provide coverage for abortions beyond those for which federal funds are permitted. It would prohibit those participating in the health insurance exchange from discriminating against providers based on whether they do or don't provide abortion services. It would also prohibit abortion coverage from being required as part of the minimum benefits package.

Abortion has become a hot topic of debate in the fight for health care overhaul. Republicans say current proposals on the table will make it easy for the government to subsidize abortions and that it needs to tighten measures against providing such subsidies.

Two other version of the legislation, a House Democrats' bill and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee bill, do not specifically discuss abortion, but would allow states to become eligible for matching federal funds if they wanted to offer family planning services to women who didn't qualify for Medicaid.

The existing law prohibits federal funds from being used toward abortions, except in the case of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger.

Committee members also rejected another Republican proposal that would require photo identification for federal health benefits. Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley said the measure would help reduce fraud in health care programs for the poor, but the amendment was shot down by a 13-10 vote.

Health Care Holdup

As the Senate Finance Committee continued to debate Baucus' bill, across Washington, President Obama took a gentle stab at his critics.

"There are some who have opposed the reforms we're suggesting, saying it would lead to a takeover by the government of the health care sector," the president said, speaking at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. "But this concern about the involvement in government, I should point out, has been present whenever we have sought to improve our health care system."

On another part of Capitol Hill, members of the House sparred over whether to admonish Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who said the Republican health care plan is to "die quickly."

"If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: die quickly. That's right -- the Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick," the freshman representative said on the House floor Tuesday while simultaneously holding a sign that read, "The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly." GOP leaders had asked for an immediate apology, but Grayson hasn't yet.

Today, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., threatened to introduce a resolution admonishing Grayson for "a breach of decorum" and degrading "the integrity and proceedings of the House."

The resolution is expected to get little, if any, support from Democrats.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressed confidence Tuesday about moving ahead with legislation, saying that that House Democrats are in the 90 percent range when it comes to agreeing on what should be in a health care reform bill.

Asked by reporters when the bills reported out by three House committees this summer would be joined into one bill and brought to the floor, Pelosi responded, "We don't feel any pressure of time."

"We feel no rush to come to the floor until we are ready," she said.

Conservatives for Patients' Rights launched a TV ad saying that "many in Congress are realizing a public-run option health care plan is a bad idea" and urging Congress to "get on with real reform."

The division among Democrats over whether the option of a government-run insurance plan would compete with the private sector has been magnified in recent days.

The rejection of amendments introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., shows that not all Senate Democrats are on board with the public option.

"My job is to put together a bill that becomes law," said Baucus, who voted against the proposals and whose own bill does not include a public option but instead would create nonprofit co-operatives that would compete with the private market. "I can count. Nobody has shown me a bill with a public option that gets to 60. So I am constrained to vote against the amendment."

Meanwhile, House Democrats say a public option in any bill is a must.

"I believe that we will have a public option in our bill, as we go forward. The differences are not as great as you may think when you take it down to its different parts. But everybody wants to lower costs, and that's a very strong option for a public option in the bill," Pelosi said.

The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 55 percent of Americans support a public option.

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf, Teddy Davis and Dean Norland contributed to this report.

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