WASHINGTON - House leaders have concluded they cannot change a divisive abortion provision in President Barack Obama's health care bill and will try to pass the sweeping legislation without the support of ardent anti-abortion Democrats.
The approach would skirt a major obstacle for Democratic leaders in the final throes of a yearlong effort to change health care in the nation. But it sets up a risky strategy of trying to round up enough Democrats to overcome, not appease, a small but possibly decisive group of House Democrats.
Democratic leaders are working to rally rank-and-file members around agreements on several complicated points, health insurance taxes and prescription drug coverage among them, and dozens of other sticky issues - all as Republicans stand ready to oppose the overhaul en masse.
Abortion opponents say the provision falls short in restricting taxpayer dollars for abortion coverage.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) has been pushing for stricter provisions and says he and a dozen or so abortion opponents would vote against the bill if the Senate's version is retained. Leaders will try to peel off some of those lawmakers and make up for any remaining deficit with Democrats who opposed the health care legislation on the first round, when it passed 220-215.
"Many of the pro-life members are going to support passage of the health care bill," Waxman predicted. "They're either satisfied enough with the Senate provision, or they decide that that's as much as they're going to get and they don't want to defeat health care."
One point on which Obama may not get his way is the White House demand for a vote by March 18, a week away. Speaking to reporters after Democrats met for a status report on the emerging health care agreements, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the deadline merely "an interesting date."