Health-Care Deal Breaker

By:  Eli Sanders
Source: The Stranger

If anyone tries to use the upcoming U.S. Senate debate over health-insurance reform as a way to limit federal funding for abortions--as happened in the House of Representatives earlier this month--Washington State's two senators will be ready to push back hard.

At an event in Seattle on November 23 to promote her health-care proposals, Senator Maria Cantwell said she would vote against any reform bill that includes language akin to the House’s Stupak Amendment. That amendment, which passed on November 7, would place severe restrictions on payments for abortions under any government-run health-care plan (the type of plan known commonly as the public option).

"I don't want to see the Stupak Amendment," said Cantwell, whose vote will be necessary to get to the 60-vote threshold for passing any Senate reform bill. "I think it would take what now is the full range of health-care options for women--if you are part of a public plan--off the table. I think it's the wrong direction."

Alex Glass, a spokesperson for the state's other senator, Patty Murray, said Murray has a similar feeling. "She thinks that what happened in the House was incredibly unfortunate," Glass said. "She will work in every way she can to keep language like that out of the Senate version... But yeah, it'll probably be a debate."

So that's one clear red line for our senators: Any reform bill should allow abortion funding in public health insurance. But Cantwell and Murray are deliberately vague about their other deal breakers.

Asked whether Murray would vote against a bill without a public option, Glass dodged by saying it was too early to say for sure. But, she added: "We're going to be working really hard to maintain that language."

Cantwell left herself wiggle room, too. "If we're going to spend money on trying to get access for the uninsured, then I want to see something that drives down costs," she said. "Whatever you want to call it."

While it may be infuriating to hear senators still striking a flexible tone on reforms that have been scrutinized in public for about six months--and have been discussed in Democratic policy circles for generations--Cantwell promised that the end is near. She expects a bill out of the Senate by Christmas. Assuming all goes as planned, it will be a historic achievement.

Granted, it will also have been a very slow-moving achievement. But our state's senators don't gain leverage by showing impatience now. In fact, acting like they've got all the time in the world forces the opposition to froth, play its cards, and, hopefully, sputter out. Which is why Cantwell, while predicting a Christmas finish, also sounds ready to talk and talk some more to get the right bill.

"We're going to have a lot of discussion," she promised.