Stupak back at center stage

STUPAK BACK AT CENTER STAGE…. At various times throughout the health care reform process, various figures have been at the center of the universe. For a while, it was Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine.). Then Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). In December, all eyes were on Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

In the home stretch, let there be no doubt that Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who is threatening to kill the legislation over indirect, circuitous funding of abortion, has the spotlight largely to himself.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said Dems were continuing to work on Stupak, who has said he could take a dozen Dems into the “no” category with disagreements over abortion language in the final bill.

“We are going to continue to work with Bart Stupak, and those members for whom that was the biggest concern,” Van Hollen said. “Because you have in the Senate pro-life members like Sen. Casey, Sen. Nelson, all of whom were clearly satisfied that the way the Senate did it met our objective of making sure that no public funds can go to abortion.

“The issue is, what can you use your own money for?” Van Hollen added. “In other words, right now today, if you want to go out with your own money and purchase a healthcare plan, you have that option.”

When pressed by host Candy Crowley about whether Dems had lost Stupak and his allied congressmen, Van Hollen was cautiously optimistic.

Around the same time, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sounded a similar note.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says President Obama and Rep. Bart Stupak share the goal of a status quo of no federal funding for abortion in the health care reform package. In a “This Week” interview, Sebelius added that if the abortion language in the Senate bill does not satisfy Stupak, “the conversation will continue”. Stupak says he carries with him 11 votes which hinge on abortion and those votes could be the difference in the bill’s fate in the House.

This emphasis on Stupak tells us a few important things. One, no one seems to think the Michigan Democrat is bluffing. Two, everyone seems to assume that Stupak really does have a bloc of votes, possibly as many as a dozen, in his pocket. And three, the leadership has probably concluded that there aren’t 12 Blue Dogs that can be persuaded to switch from “nay” to “yea,” enough to make Stupak’s threats irrelevant.