Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has threatened to kill the health care bill if the abortion restrictions aren't strong enough. But MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow on Wednesday argued that what he and his backers have demanded is a "legislative impossibility."
In order for the bill to be enacted, the House must first approve the Senate bill, and the Senate must then use reconciliation to eliminate some controversial provisions. After both chambers have voted to pass the same amended document, the president can sign it into law.
The host of The Rachel Maddow Show pointed out that using reconciliation, a likely necessity in order to enact the bill, is only possible for budget-related items, such as taxation and spending.
"Bart Stupak's proposed 'ban abortion language' that is what this whole stunt is about -- that language can't be done under reconciliation," she said. "Can't be done. It's against the rules."
Maddow compared Stupak "a kid telling you they're not going to eat their broccoli unless you hold your breath for 40 minutes... You're welcome to die trying; it can't be done."
Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the budget committee, has supported this conclusion. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, he declared that "reconciliation could still be used only for changes that are truly budget-related -- meaning they affect revenue or spending."
Stupak's followers may also be smaller in number than he has claimed. Last month he alleged that "probably about 15 to 20" House members will vote with him, and in recent weeks he has claimed 12 backers for his cause.
Maddow reported that a "senior House leadership aide" said that after a whip count in the chamber, "We do not see more than four or five members standing with Bart when this bill is actually brought to the floor."
But with extremely narrow vote margins in the House, it's still conceivable that Stupak and the few others could be the difference between the bill's success and failure. Given the procedural hurdles, it's unclear how they intend to go about achieving their goal, but Stupak has said that no compromise has yet been reached.
The abortion restrictions in the Senate bill are less severe than those in the House bill, but pro-choice groups still consider it a concession. The influential National Organization for Women told Raw Story the language is already so damaging to a woman's right to choose that the bill is worth killing entirely.
Stiffening the restrictions too much could strip even more votes from pro-choice Democrats, which illustrates the complexity of this issue.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, co-chair of the progressive caucus, said in an interview with Raw Story that Stupak's language as currently designed would undoubtedly derail the package as the more liberal members would be unable to vote for it.
This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast March 10, 2010.