President Obama pushed congressional leaders Tuesday to fast-track health care legislation behind closed doors despite his campaign promises of an open process.
Rather than setting up a formal conference committee to resolve differences between health bills passed last year by the House and Senate, the decision, made in an Oval Office meeting Tuesday evening, allows for the House to work off the Senate's version, amend it and send it back to the Senate for final passage.
The quick approach to reconcile the bills, unusual but not unheard of, will reportedly exclude GOP lawmakers and reduce the party's ability to delay or force politically troubling votes in both houses.
Presently, the bills passed by the House and Senate both would require nearly all Americans to get coverage and would provide subsidies for many who can't afford the cost.
They differ, however, on hundreds of details, including whom to tax, how many people to cover, whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to buy coverage in the new markets with their own money and how to restrict taxpayer funding for abortion.
The abortion issue has been particularly contentious as pro-choice Democrats have been trying to pass legislation that includes government funding of abortion – a move that conservatives say would be the greatest expansion of government-backed abortion since the infamous Roe v. Wade case made abortion legal.
Pro-life groups are hoping that aggressive pro-life lawmaker Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) will lead his gang of pro-life Democrats in the House to oppose the bill.
Stupak has vowed to stand up against the final version of the bill unless it contains amendment language on abortion similar to his.
The Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House version of the health care bill clearly bans all federal funding of elective abortion in public and private plans.
"We are going to hold firm and make sure the Stupak-Pitts language stays when this legislation comes back to us," Stupak said, according to Health Care News. "We will not vote for this bill if that language is not here."
Stupak has reported that he has at least ten to 12 other Democrats who will not vote for the bill if it allows public funding of abortion. Some believe that the reconciled bill cannot pass in the House without support from Stupak and his group of pro-life Democrats.