The executive order option

THE EXECUTIVE ORDER OPTION…. With Speaker Pelosi having ruled out, at least for now, Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) demands for a side vote on his odious anti-abortion amendment, there are limited options for resolving the dispute. One approach, of course, is not resolving it at all, and finding the necessary votes elsewhere.

But over the last few hours, another possibility has become the focus of fairly intense interest.

Democratic lawmakers say party leaders are considering winning crucial support from abortion foes for health care overhaul legislation with an executive order by President Barack Obama.

The order — which does not require congressional approval — would be aimed at reflecting long-standing law barring federal aid for abortions except for cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is threatened.

If this sounds kind of familiar, it’s because it came up several weeks ago, but was dismissed without much thought. Apparently, it’s back, and is considered a credible solution to the impasse.

Rep. James Oberstar, a pro-life Dem from Minnesota who intends to vote for the reform bill, has signaled an interest in this approach, though he said his colleagues will have to discuss exactly what an executive order might say.

Well, yes, I suppose that is the tricky part. The idea would be a commitment from the White House on how, exactly, exchanges would be allowed to operate. In effect, the president would sign an order applying the Hyde Amendment to health care reform, leaving the status quo in place, which is allegedly what everyone wants anyway. An executive order would aim to satisfy the demands of Stupak and his cohorts without changing the specific language of the legislation that pro-choice lawmakers are willing to accept.

Pro-choice Dems like Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.) sound amenable to the executive order approach. DeGette told reporters, “If it simply states that there will be no federal funding of abortion in the bill, that’s fine, because we’ve already agreed to that.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was asked whether the pro-life bloc would accept this option, and he replied, “I’m hopeful.”

This is moving very quickly, but it’s probably a mistake to count on an as-yet-unwritten executive order as a magic bullet. If writing legislative language that satisfies Stupak proved impossible, writing executive order language may not be any easier.

But it’s at least an option, and it’s gathering steam. Something to keep an eye on.