One of the key undecided members of Congress on health reform, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), remained uncommitted yesterday but said she is "leaning" in favor of the bill after getting some personal attention from President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"I am leaning toward voting for the bill if we can properly deal with the abortion issue and we are fast about that task," Miss Kaptur said.
A photograph taken yesterday shows both Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid (D., Nevada) with hands on Miss Kaptur's shoulders while they were all at a signing ceremony at the White House for a newly passed jobs bill, an unrelated measure.
"[The President] just greeted me, said hello. He gave me a kiss on the left cheek," Miss Kaptur said.
Mr. Obama then listened as Mr. Reid assured Miss Kaptur that the bill would not undermine the long-standing Hyde rule against federal abortion funding.
"He said, 'Marcy, I helped write those provisions. I assure you they don't go beyond existing law,'•" Miss Kaptur said. "I said, 'I want to see the language you're talking about.'•"
Miss Kaptur said she believes it is possible to maintain the long-standing ban on federal funding of abortions other than to save the life of the mother or as a result of rape or incest while passing the Senate health-care bill that aims to provide coverage to 32 million Americans.
Democrats in Congress and President Obama are pushing hard to get the 10-year, $940-billion bill passed, as early as this weekend.
Abortion is an obstacle in the health-care debate because some abortion opponents in the House believe the Senate bill would require U.S. taxpayers to pay for abortions through subsidized insurance plans and through community health clinics.
Others say the Senate bill would avoid federal funding of abortion by requiring people to pay for abortion coverage out of their private funds.
"There is no complete clarification yet in my opinion on the funding that would be available for community health clinics and the ability of those clinics to use those funds for abortion, so we are working to clarify that," Miss Kaptur said.
"I'm trying to do what is constructive, what is in the interest of all of our people, but not letting this issue be the one that makes or breaks health insurance for the American people," Miss Kaptur said.
Asked whether she would oppose the bill if the abortion language was not clarified to her satisfaction, Miss Kaptur said she is weighing the number of abortions that occur annually with the number of infant deaths and premature and underweight births that can be attributed to inadequate health care resulting from the lack of health insurance.
"If we do a better job through the insurance system, we can save lives," she said.
Jack Smith, one of the Republican candidates seeking to replace Miss Kaptur in November, announced that he is adamantly opposed to the bill and said Congress should look for market-oriented ways to expand health insurance coverage.
"I do not think we as a federal government should be funding abortion, here or abroad," Mr. Smith said. He said he was opposed to the extensive new regulations and boards that would follow the bill's passage.
"Adding more bureaucracy just expands the chances for it to be abused," said Mr. Smith, a former Toledo police chief.
"There are a lot of surprises that we haven't dug out yet."
As market-based alternatives, he suggested tort reform to reduce meritless malpractice suits, allowing the sale of insurance across state lines, instituting health-care savings plans, and allowing a tax credit for the purchase of insurance.
Rich Iott, another Republican seeking the GOP nomination, criticized Miss Kaptur and House Democrats for defeating a measure that would have prevented the use of the "Slaughter Rule," the so-called "deem-and-pass" strategy, which allows the House to approve the Senate version of the health-care bill without actually voting on it.
"I've been disgusted with the actions of Congress - from the bailouts, to the out-of-control spending, to their failure to listen to their constituents - but today's action is unbelievable," Mr. Iott said. "It is only out-of-touch, career politicians like Marcy Kaptur who think it is acceptable to 'deem' a bill to be passed without a vote."
Ms. Kaptur said the health-care bill is needed for thousands of uninsured people in the 9th Congressional District who she represents, as well as for more than 12,000 small businesses that she said would be able to afford insurance for their employees if the legislation passes.
Democrats need 216 votes to pass the bill.
Also yesterday, U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer (D., Battle Creek) announced he would support the legislation.
Mr. Schauer said he was confident that a modified version of the Senate bill would pass that eliminates special deals that were included to win the votes of senators from Nebraska and Louisiana.
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