On a day when Capitol Hill had as much drama – and perhaps even as much entertainment value – as March Madness, Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan appeared to hit the buzzer-beater for the Democrats on the health care vote.
Congressman Stupak and a handful of other anti-abortion Democrats agreed Sunday to vote in favor of health care reform, almost certainly giving the bill the votes it needs to pass the House of Representatives later in the day.
Stupak and his colleagues agreed to change their votes when President Obama offered to sign an executive order to affirm that that no federal funds be used for abortions under the new health care reform bill.
The deal means the bill will almost certainly be passed later tonight. Obama is so confident of a positive outcome that he announced that he would address the American people after the vote.
Since the Senate has already passed the bill, it is possible that Obama could sign the health care bill into law tonight. If he does not, he would likely sign it Monday. Once the bill is signed, many provisions will take years to kick in. (Click here are a rundown of the timetable.)
After Obama signs the bill, attention would turn to the so-called “fixes,” which will presumably also be passed by the House tonight. (What do House Democrats want to fix? Read about it here.)
Next up: 'fixes'
The goal of the fixes is to enable Obama to sign health care reform into law and then go back and make several changes to unpopular provisions after the fact. This requires a lot of trust among Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House. (Read about that here.)
Among the fixes would be alterations to the deals that drew widespread criticism, such as the so-called Cornhusker Kickback and Louisiana Purchase.
If passed by the House tonight, the fixes would then need to be passed by the Senate to enable Obama to sign them into law. Since Senate Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, however, they will likely need to resort to reconciliation – a controversial process that enables the Senate to pass measure on a simple majority – to pass the fixes.
While the fixes will require Senate passage to become law, the executive order on abortion will not. Stupak said in a press conference Sunday that Obama promised to sign the executive order after he signed the health care reform bill.
Stupak suggested that the health care bill likely had the 216 votes it needed to pass even before his deal with the White House, and that the executive order represented the best means available to him and his colleagues to ensure that federal funds would not be used for abortion.
A new day for both sides
On a day when the House was set to vote on a package of fixes to undo sweetheart deals struck with some members of the Senate the actions of Stupak and Obama highlighted a very different sort of dealmaking.
The stand of Stupak and his colleagues had every indication of an underlying principle more than mere political gain. “We stood strong,” said Stupak. “We stood on a principle.”
While abortion remains perhaps the most contentious issue in American politics – and what is one person’s principled stand is another’s crime against humanity – Stupak and his colleagues appeared to be doing what they thought was right.
Republicans refuted that, with leaders saying that a vote for health care was a vote for federal funding of abortion.
Yet on a day when all eyes were on Capitol Hill, perhaps the stronger statement came from the protesters outside. A day after ugly scenes involving allegations of racist and anti-gay comments coming from a few “tea party” protesters, Sunday marked a different sort of day for health care’s opponents, too.
There were no reports of hateful comments, only a determination to be heard – if not now, then on Election Day. “We will remember in November,” the crowd chanted.