The single biggest hold up for health care reform right now is the language determining whether or not federal funding can be used to pay for abortions. When the House passed its original bill, it had to make a last-minute addition of language strictly prohibiting any federal funding for abortion in order to get enough votes. This became known as the "Stupak language," after Rep. Bart Stupak , the Michigan Democrat who worked with Catholic leaders to help craft the language. But that language was weakened somewhat in the Senate bill, and now a faction of about a dozen (counts vary) moderate Democrats, led by Stupak, is saying that they will not vote for health care unless they can attach abortion language that is equally strict to the original provision.
There are a couple of other battles going on in the House—most notably the one over cost control—but this is probably the single most critical fight. As Slate's Timothy Noah noted while counting health care votes in the House last week, it will be nearly impossible to pass reform without Stupak's faction.
So what are the odds that Stupak will flip? Right now, there are conflicting reports. This piece (via Americans for Prosperity's Phil Kerpen), in which Stupak seems to signal that he's looking for a way to compromise, makes it seem as if he's preparing to give in. That's not terribly surprising; the pressure on him to cave is no doubt enormous. But in another vote-count piece today, The Hill's Jeffrey Young and Bob Cusack report that "the Stupak abortion language is unlikely to be included in the final measure, leading some House committee chairmen to hold back their votes."
In other words, no one really knows for sure, and what we're left with is a waiting game. You can play along from home, though, with continually updated vote tallies from Real Clear Politics and Hotline/National Journal. ?
Update: As Philip Klein notes, it's not actually clear how the Stupak language would be added to the bill. The House doesn't have the option to amend the bill before the vote, so amendments to make it more palatable to House members would be added through the passage of a reconciliation fix bill. But reconciliation is probably not a good vehicle for making such changes. As Klein writes:
While there's been a lot of debate over the uses of reconciliation, there's been widespread agreement that abortion is one issue that cannot be addressed that way. And even if it were theoretically possible to impose Stupak language via reconciliation, it would still be difficult to get that passed through the much more pro-choice Senate. During the December Senate health care debate, Ben Nelson offered an amendment with the Stupak language, and the measure was tabled, having only received 45 votes in support.