WASHINGTON - - House Democratic leaders, while insisting they have the finish line in sight on their $1 trillion plan to overhaul the nation's health care system, have hit a last-minute snag on perhaps the most divisive issue in domestic politics - abortion.
And Senate Democratic leaders' continued problems in winning over moderates in their party is raising the possibility that the votes on health care might be pushed into next year.
The delays in both houses reflect the fact that even though Democrats hold solid majorities, significant divisions exist below the surface.
House and Senate leaders have adopted language that they say would prevent federal funds from being used to fund abortions. But some lawmakers who oppose abortion say the language in the bills needs to be stronger. The fight is focused on the health insurance exchanges that would be set up to help uninsured consumers buy policies. Some would qualify for government subsidies if their incomes are close to the federal poverty line.
House Democrats who oppose abortion are demanding tougher restrictions to keep those assistance funds from being used to cover abortion services.
"I will oppose bringing the bill to the floor until an amendment can be offered or language agreed to that will prevent public funding for abortion," Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Tuesday.
Stupak has warned that he could keep as many as 40 House Democrats from supporting the bill if his terms are not met - a serious threat when leaders are worried about securing a majority.
Abortion-rights activists say that Stupak's amendment would prevent private insurance companies from offering abortion services through the exchanges.