In what may turn out to be the last major vote in Representative Steve Driehaus's (D-OH) career, the 1st District Democrat changed a promised "no" vote to one of "yes" on health care Sunday night, thanks to a last second deal from the White House.
In the weeks leading up to the final House vote, Driehaus gave assurances over and over again that he would vote against health care reform legislation as long as the provisions of bill allowed for federal funds to be spent on abortion. Just hours before the final vote, Driehaus and several like-minded Democrats (including their presumptive leader, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI)) changed their votes as a bloc to "yes", securing just enough votes to slide the controversial health care overhaul through the House.
So what changed Driehaus's mind? Did the legislation with which he found so much fault change? Not at all. As Driehaus voted in favor of the legislation, the language of the bill still permits federally funded abortions. However, President Obama gave a promise to pro-life Democrats that he would issue an executive order guaranteeing that federal funds provided for in the health care legislation will not be used to fund abortions.
A victory for pro-lifers then? Not so fast. When stacked up against legislation or court challenges, executive orders are worth about as much as the paper they are written on. Many things can override or cancel out an executive order such as (1) another executive order, (2) contrary legislation, (3) prior court rulings. Therefore, is President Obama changes his mind on this promise and issues another executive order to cancel out this one, he can do that without any check or balance.
Pundits have also speculated that a legal challenge to the executive order on the basis of court rulings (especially the court ruling in Roe v. Wade) will terminate the order should a court find that federal funding for abortions has previously been permitted.
These problems with executive orders are not obscurities, which means that Driehaus and his staff clearly knew they existed. Perhaps the congressman was looking for a way out of his promise to vote against health care legislation.
Whatever the reason for his vote, the "yes" tally is sure to be a huge issue in November. The first time that Driehaus voted for the health care legislation, he took a heavy hit in polls and in negative press.
Expect opponent Steve Chabot (R) to raise the issue of Driehaus's changed vote many times prior to this fall's congressional election.
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