Welch Sees Close Vote In House On Health Care Reform

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Later this month the U.S. House takes up a new health care reform bill, and Congressman Peter Welch expects a close vote.

Welch says the outcome could be determined by some House Democrats who are pushing for more restrictive language on the use of federal funds for abortion.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The White House is urging House Democratic leaders to pass the health care reform bill before March 18th – that’s when President Obama is scheduled to leave on a trip to Australia.

The Democrats have decided to try to pass the legislation using a process known as Budget Reconciliation because this process doesn’t allow Senate Republicans to filibuster the bill.  That means the Democrats can pass it with 51 votes instead of the 60 votes that are needed to break a filibuster.

The first vote will take place in the House and the Democrats’ majority in that chamber is being challenged by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak. 

He doesn’t think the current language in the bill restricting the use of federal subsidies for abortion is strong enough.  If the language isn’t changed, Stupak is threatening to line up as many as 12 Democrats to vote against the bill.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Congressman Peter Welch said he feels the bill already makes it clear that federal money cannot be used:

(Welch) "So I think that is covered and we maintain the status quo. Some folks are arguing that it should be more restrictive – including Rep. Stupak. But that is one of the factors that is going to sway votes of a few members and this is going to be a very close vote no matter what the outcome."

(Kinzel) Welch wants the final bill to include a provision to let individual states implement a pilot single payer system. But the legislation doesn’t allow this to happen until 2017.  Welch says he’s working to move this date forward:

(Welch) "I certainly favor having Vermont have the option to do single payer or public option as soon as possible – 2011, 201w – the sooner the better. I trust Vermonters and the Vermont governor and the Vermont Legislature and the Vermont citizens frankly that have been leaders on this to make wise decisions about extending access and controlling costs."

(Kinzel) Welch says he’s frustrated that the bill doesn’t contain a public option to create competition for private insurance companies but he says there simply aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass the public option:

(Welch) "This is really a question at the moment. Are we going to pass legislation in the House or the Senate bill that puts a stake in the ground and says ‘America is going to have a health care system where all of us are covered and all of help pay’"?

(Kinzel) Welch says that while this legislation isn’t all that he hoped for in a health care reform bill, he feels it does represent a positive first step in providing health care coverage to all Americans.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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