- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Congressional Republicans want any health care reform plan to include bans on using taxpayer funds to pay for abortions or requiring private insurers to cover the procedure - possibly putting a new hurdle in the way of the drive to pass a bill.

President Obama insisted Monday that nothing will derail his top domestic priority and tried to get the reform back on track, meeting with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, and House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, both of whom are struggling to find a way to pay for the plan.

Reform proposals in the Senate and a Democratic draft bill in the House would require all Americans to carry a minimum level of health insurance - a level likely to be determined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Senate Republicans on Monday proposed banning the department from including abortion coverage in the minimum standard. House Republicans plan to issue a similar request Tuesday.

The Republicans made their move after a group of 19 House Democrats sent a letter last month to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, saying they would not support a reform bill that mandated abortion coverage.

Pro-life advocates argue that taxpayer money should not be used to cover the controversial procedure, except in very rare cases. If a “public” health insurance option is included in the reform package, as is widely expected, it would be funded at least in part by taxpayers.

The request is similar to a 1978 amendment that prevents Medicaid from covering abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life. The existing ban must be renewed annually, and Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, is proposing to make the ban permanent.

“Historical experience with federal statutes demonstrates that if abortion is not explicitly excluded, administrative agencies and the courts will mandate it,” said Mr. Pitts, who plans to announce his request Tuesday with at least seven other House Republicans. “Americans who are morally opposed to abortion should not have to pay for abortions with their tax dollars against their will.”

A similar ban was proposed in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Monday by the ranking Republican, Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming. The amendment failed over concerns about restricting the authority of HHS.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama, just back from a weeklong foreign trip, issued a stark warning to those he said were trying to block a health care reform bill.

“I just want to put everybody on notice - because there was a lot of chatter during the week that I was gone: We are going to get this done. Inaction is not an option,” he told reporters at a White House event announcing the nomination of Alabama physician Dr. Regina Benjamin to be the U.S. surgeon general.

“And for those naysayers and cynics who think that this is not going to happen: Don’t bet against us. We are going to make this thing happen because the American people desperately need it,” the president said.

Mr. Baucus told reporters that he heard Mr. Obama give his “strongest commitment” yet to passing health care reform during their private White House meeting.

The House version of the bill is expected to be introduced Tuesday, Mrs. Pelosi told reporters. She warned that the legislation is not complete and played down differences within the Democratic caucus over how to finance the massive bill.

“As you get toward the end [of the legislative process] … is when you get some of the differentiation beyond the consensus that we have built to date,” she said, adding that she thinks the House will meet its goal of passing a bill before the August recess.

The Senate health committee continued debating its bill Monday, and the Finance Committee is also continuing its work on its own bill this week.

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