Quigley, Lipinski health care bill holdouts over abortion

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 03/20/2010, 02:35pm

Rep. Dan Lipinski wants stricter anti-abortion language in bill; abortion rights Rep. Mike Quigley, his fellow Illinois Democrat, wants no deal with opponents

WASHINGTON — Over the weekend, President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were still scrambling to lock in 216 votes for their health-care bill, with a small group of Democrats — whose support could be crucial — holding out for stronger anti-abortion provisions.

Two Chicago Democrats, Rep. Dan Lipinski and Rep. Mike Quigley, are a microcosm of the dilemma for the Obama White House and Democratic House leaders as they head to a Sunday showdown vote.

The anti-abortion Lipinski won’t vote for the measure as it stands. He told me stricter bans are needed to ensure no federal money is channeled to clinics providing abortions or to insurance plans offering abortions. While some Catholic groups have signed on to the Obama plan, the nation’s bishops have not.

Lipinski said he looks to the bishops for guidance, not other groups not an official part of the church. “The Catholic church says this is not acceptable, there are Catholics who believe otherwise,” Lipinski told me.

And in a surprise to Democratic vote-counters, Quigley, an abortion-rights supporter, said Friday night Obama can’t count on his support if a deal is made with the anti-abortion bloc to get to 216. Moreover, Quigley wants to strip out anti-abortion language already in the legislation.

“I don’t feel pressured. I feel pressure to do the right thing,” Quigley told me.

Quigley spent some of Friday taking fire from the Service Employees International Union and talking to White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

“Ax is not a heavy whipper,” said Quigley. “We talked, and we are going to talk again tomorrow. I expressed my concerns about the choice issue.”

Last week, I didn’t include Quigley in a list of uncommitted Illinois Democrats because I thought — as did the Obama White House and House leaders — that Quigley, elected last year to replace Rahm Emanuel when he became Obama’s chief of staff, was a yes.

As Pelosi’s march to 216 became more difficult with the pool of uncommitted Democrats shrinking, the prospect of a deal with the anti-abortion bloc loomed. Abortion-rights forces do not want their support to be taken for granted.

Quigley said “people slowly started to believe me when I said I was undecided.”

Quigley and Lipinski have problems with other parts of the bill, but the abortion issue is the most intractable. I think in the end, Quigley will be a yes.

Lipinski is another case. Lipinski told me he thinks he will pay no consequential price for a no vote on legislation Obama is staking his legacy on. “I don’t think this will have a significant impact on my career,” Lipinski said.

If he was looking to move up in leadership, a no vote could be problematic. “I don’t aspire to leadership,” he told me. He’s not looking for better committee assignments. The primary was Feb. 2, so Lipinski is immune from a challenge. And he can’t be messed with in the upcoming congressional district redistricting as long as ally House Speaker Micheal J. Madigan (D-Chicago) is in charge.

Dan Lipinski has been most influenced by a vote made by his father, former Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), in 1993, against former President Bill Clinton’s deficit-reduction package — a must win, back then, for Clinton. The senior Lipinski was the only Illinois Democrat and one of 38 Democrats in Congress to say no to Clinton and he wasn’t punished and his son pointed out to me he went on to serve another decade on Congress with no punishment. Said Lipinski of his fathers’s no vote back then, “I think it served him well.”