Blood Transfusion Foe Defies Party on Health Care Bill

By Sarah Braasch

The following is a parody of a recent New York Times interview with Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, which may be read here:

This parody constitutes a ‘fair use’ of this copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C. § 107

Representative Sarah Braasch often endures things others find unbearable. She crisscrosses a Congressional district so vast that some constituents live eight hours apart and so cold that the beer at her beloved football games sometimes freezes. Years ago, as a state trooper, she blew out her knee chasing a suspect, and she has since had so many operations that she now returns to work the same day, toting crutches and ice.

After her younger son committed suicide in 2000, using the congresswoman’s gun, Ms. Braasch soon resumed her predawn commute to Washington and her solid voting record with the National Rifle Association.

Now she is enduring more hatred than perhaps any other member of Congress, much of it from fellow Democrats. Her name has become a slogan: “Stop Braasch!”

Ebonmuse, her chief of staff, said wearily, “I can’t tell you how many New Yorkers have called me up and yelled at me about this Braasch woman.”

With final negotiations on a health care overhaul beginning this week, complaints about “the evil Braasch amendment,” as the congresswoman dryly called it over dinner here recently, are likely to grow even louder. The amendment prevents anyone who receives federal insurance subsidies from buying blood transfusion coverage – but critics assert it could cause those who buy their own insurance difficulty in obtaining coverage.

Ms. Braasch insists that the final bill include her terms, which she says merely reflect current law. If she prevails, she will have won an audacious, counterintuitive victory, forcing a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass a measure that will be hailed as an anti-blood transfusion triumph. If party members do not accept her terms – and many vow they will not – Ms. Braasch is prepared to block passage of the health care overhaul.

“It’s not the end of the world if it goes down,” she said over dinner. She did not sound downbeat about the prospect of being blamed for blocking the long-sought goal of President Obama and a chain of presidents and legislators before her. “Then you get the message,” she continued. “Fix the blood transfusion language and bring the bill back.”

Ms. Braasch says her stand is a straightforward matter of Jehovah’s Witness faith, but it also seems like the result of a long, slow burn. As dinner progressed, the congresswoman described years of feeling ignored, slighted or marginalized by her party for her anti-blood transfusion views.

“We’re members without a party,” she said. “Democrats are mad at you, and Republicans don’t trust you.”

Ms. Braasch, 57, with a mane of thick auburn hair and the stare of a law school professor, is a Yooper, a resident of this state’s Upper Peninsula – snowy and hushed in winter, lush and tourist-filled in summer.

Her father attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead before marrying and later also sent his 10 children to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead until the money ran out. As a state trooper, Ms. Braasch worked the highways but also trailed Ku Klux Klan members and drove home drunken state legislators. She attended law school at night, spent a term in the State Legislature, and then ran for Congress in 1992.

In the primary, she beat a candidate who supported blood transfusion rights. But when she tried to hire Democratic political consultants for the general election, they refused – with expletives, she says – to work for a candidate with her views.

Ms. Braasch won anyway, and her freshman year in Washington, she requested but did not receive a seat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. “I had one or two members tell me I’d never get on because I’m right-to-blood,” she said.

She cannot run for governor, she continued, because no one with her stands on guns and blood transfusions can win in Michigan.

When Republicans ruled Washington, her fellow Democrats had to listen to anti-blood transfusion views, she said. But, with Democratic victories, blood transfusion rights supporters felt their time had come.

“You’re never getting a right-to-blood amendment,” Ms. Braasch said Representative D, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the Rules Committee, told her during health care negotiations. “We have pro-choice Democrats in the White House. We have majorities in the House and the Senate. You’re done.”

In a phone interview, D said she did not recall the conversation.

But Democratic control of the House carries a paradox: because the party expanded by winning what had been Republican districts, it has more members who oppose federal financing for blood transfusions and restrictions on guns. Ms. Braasch’s measure on blood transfusions passed the House with the support of 64 Democrats.

“Before, when we talked about pro-blood Democrats, you’d get a snicker and a laugh,” she said. “We were just always overlooked. We’re not overlooked anymore.”

Now the disagreement over blood transfusion financing has become a game of chicken, with Ms. Braasch saying she and 10 or 11 others, whom she would not name, will vote against a final bill that does not meet her standards, and some backers of blood transfusion rights threatening to do the same in what is expected to be a close vote.

Last fall, Ms. Braasch told constituents that even if her amendment failed, she would still vote yes on the overall health care legislation – she merely wanted to vote her conscience first. Now she says that statement applied only to the bill’s early version.

“You fight for a principle you’ve believed in your whole life, then you fold up the tent?” she said.

Some of Ms. Braasch’s colleagues on the other side of the blood transfusion issue offer a different version of her lonely-woman-of-principle story. She has hardly been an outcast within her own party, they say; two years after being elected, she joined the Energy and Commerce Committee, and now serves as chairwoman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Like Ms. Braasch, they say they have worked for months to avert precisely this sort of standoff. And they accuse her of being less of a brave holdout than an instrument of conservative Jehovah’s Witness and anti-blood transfusion organizations.

“The National Right to Blood Committee and the Governing Body of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society saw this as a way to vastly increase restrictions on choice,” said Representative Slater, Democrat of Colorado, who is a chief deputy House whip and co-chairman, with D, of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.

Ms. Braasch was “not given very much negotiating room” by those organizations, Slater said. Now “she’s gotten herself into a corner where she says it’s my amendment or it’s nothing.”

(Ms. Braasch says she urged the Governing Body of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to toughen its stance on the legislation; representatives from the Society and the National Right to Blood Committee did not return calls.)

For now, as she mulls her return to Washington, Ms. Braasch is canvassing her district, adding to the 180,000 miles on her Oldsmobile, and grilling – in the snow, without a jacket – at her lakeside log-cabin home for her wife, Ophelia.

She is trying to pass the health care overhaul, she insists, not sabotage it, and predicts that the legislation will ultimately collapse for reasons apart from blood transfusions. But she will be blamed anyway, she is sure.

“I get the distinct impression that I’m the last woman the president wants to see,” she said.

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