Democrats Debate Health Care Details, Faith Leaders Continue Push

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., left, listens as Rep. Eugene Taylor, D-Miss., speaks during a health care news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 4, 2010.

Democrats in the House of Representatives are struggling to build consensus about health care reform just days after President Obama told Congress to pass the bill "in the next few weeks."

With legislators under a deadline to get a bill passed by Mar. 18, issues of insurance premiums, taxes and abortion have scattered the Democratic majority.

"Every legislative vote is a heavy lift around here, you assume nothing," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY), who voted for health reform last November, said that he might change his vote this time due to a tax in the bill that will hit the middle class.

"As much as I want to do health care reform, I don't think you can rob Peter to pay Paul," he told CNN.

Anti-abortion efforts, spearheaded by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), have also threatened put a dent in the Democratic front.

"Some people are saying we have to vote for the Senate bill. That ain't going to happen," Stupak told the Washington Post.

Leaders from the faith community have also been stirred over the abortion issue, most notably the Roman Catholic church, who said on Thursday that they would work to get the bill passed in a bipartisan effort if the language on abortion is changed.

"We would strongly urge everyone, Democratic and Republican, to vote to waive the point of order," Richard Doerflinger, an associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Politico. "Whether it would be enough to get to 60 votes, I can't predict. We would certainly try."

President Obama, meanwhile, has been heated in garnering support for his bill since his vow on Wednesday to do "everything in my power" to pass the $950 billion piece of legislation.

The President met with nearly a dozen moderate Democrats on Thursday to impress the need for a bill to be passed, although minds have been slow to be changed.

"It's not a process that I'm very excited about," Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho told USA Today. "I'd much rather have a bill that had enough bipartisan support."

Obama is scheduled to be in Philadelphia and St. Louis next week to rally support.

Republicans, in the meantime, have vowed to fight the proposal until the end.

"I and my Republican colleagues are going to do everything we can to stand with the American people and defeat it," House Minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

Along with their critiques on the bill's costs and the projected increases in taxes and insurance premiums it would bring, the Republican's strongest claims against "Obamacare" have been that the American people just don't want it.

"I appreciate the President's call for a bipartisan approach, but where we're headed, through the use of reconciliation, means that the only thing that will be bipartisan about this proposal is the opposition to it," Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on Wednesday.

"What we know about the health care bill is people don't want it to pass. It's overwhelmingly unpopular," McConnell said. "And the impression that the American people get is that the administration and the majority are very arrogant about this. They think they're smarter than the American people, they think we're going to give this to you whether you want it or not."

Meanwhile, leaders in the faith community have continued to urge lawmakers to "complete the task at hand on behalf of the millions who are left out and left behind in our current health-care system."

An open letter to President Obama and Congress, which was posted on Feb. 24 in a full-page advertisement in The Hill by interfaith group Faith Reform in Health Care, is continuing its circulation among government officials and the faithful.

"We are asking our individual congregations and members to deliver the Hill letter to their own congressional members in their own districts," United Church of Christ minister for health care justice Barbara Baylor said on Wednesday.

Noting that "opportunities to comprehensively address our broken health care system are rare" and that the U.S. "now stands closer than ever before to historic health care reform" the letter warns lawmakers that "turning back now could mean justice delayed for another generation and an unprecedented opportunity lost."

"Let us not delay health care justice any longer," the letter reads. "This is your moment for political courage, vision, leadership and faith. We urge you to take heart and move meaningful health care reform forward."

Signers on the letter from the United Methodist Church (UMC) have also urged their congregation to share the petition this week, as well as contact members of Congress and most of all, pray.

"In the presence of all that is holy within and around us, and in the sacred bonds of our common humanity, we give thanks for the life that we share and for our calling to care for each other," a written prayer from the UMC reads. "We remember our brothers and sisters who suffer or die for lack of needed health care. We confess that we have fallen short in caring for every member of our human family, and that in spite of our abundant resources we have failed to ensure that all may receive the health care they need for the life that is intended for every person."

"May the valleys and the burdens of sickness and disease be conquered as we raise our voices of faith to the simple, moral, and merciful imperative of meeting one another's health care needs."

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