Will Democrats fumble health reform?

Abortion and the tax on "Cadillac" health plans are still contentious issues, and the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat is heightening Democratic anxiety. In this sudden death overtime, there's no margin for error.

Robert Shrum

The Cardinals beat the Packers on Sunday in the sudden flash of a fumble; within seconds, the game was over. Teams can’t afford to fumble in sudden death overtime. So it is with health reform. I still think it will pass. But we’re now in overtime, and the GOP will do anything to force a fumble and kill the bill. In reality, the greater danger comes from Democrats themselves; there are three late-game risks that could deliver a mortal blow to health reform.

First is the controversy over abortion. It’s roiled the debate from the start; but over the Christmas break, Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, who voted for the House version of reform, issued a threat via the front page of the New York Times to oppose legislation that includes the Senate abortion compromise, which is less draconian than his own amendment. The original House bill passed by only five votes. Stupak claims he has 10 House members prepared to follow his lead and switch if the Senate language isn’t changed. In effect, he’s said he won’t settle for anything less than a system that, in the guise of denying public funding for abortion—something the Senate bill actually does—also prevents Americans from purchasing abortion coverage with their own money.

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.