Nightmare on Capitol Hill

freddy-krueger-crossed-armsDespite polls showing a majority of Americans do not support the current legislative proposals being voted on in Congress, the Senate took us one step closer to passage this weekend. One of the interesting subplots to this unfolding national drama is the role that abortion has played in shaping the bills. Over on the House side, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., managed to insert language prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortion under the proposed plan — either directly or through subsidies of the planned exchange.

There have been a few senators who have managed to play hardball on the legislation as well. To get to the required 60 votes to invoke cloture, the writers of the bill have removed the public option and the Medicare buy-in. Others just went for cold, hard cash (to their districts). The final holdout was Sen. Ben Nelson, a pro-life Democrat from Nebraska. He changed his vote late on Friday night through a package deal.

Buying votes and making special deals is just the way the sausage is made here on Capitol Hill. But I still found Paul Kane’s story on how the vote was gained to be intriguing. The piece is headlined “To sway Nelson, a hard-won compromise on abortion issue,” and it explains that neither pro-choice advocates nor their pro-life counterparts are terribly pleased with the compromise. This is in no way surprising since it manages to make things worse than the Stupak amendment did — for both sides. And I don’t think either side particularly gained much either. Ah, Congress.

The deal, I think, is that states can now opt out from allowing plans to cover abortion in the insurance exchanges that will be subsidized by federal taxpayers. Now, should a state forbid plans from covering abortion, the taxpayers in those states would still be funding abortions — since the exchanges are subsidized by federal funds. And pro-choicers now have to fight a state-by-state battle. Here’s what the story says:

This was an effort to comport with the 32-year prohibition against federal funding for abortions, but the Nelson compromise is a softening of the House language, which was written by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). The Stupak amendment forbid any insurer in the exchange “to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion” — a position that abortion rights advocates suggested would have led to many insurance providers dropping abortion coverage.

“I know this is hard for some of my colleagues to accept. And I appreciate their right to disagree. But I would not have voted for this bill without these provisions,” Nelson said Saturday. With 59 members of the Democratic caucus already supporting the entire legislation, Nelson was the last holdout needed to shut down the Republican filibuster.

Some of Nelson’s colleagues accused him of using the abortion issue as leverage to get a better reimbursement rate for his state under Medicaid provisions in the legislation. “You’ve got to compliment Ben Nelson for playing ‘The Price Is Right,’ ” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said.

It probably would be helpful to tell the reader what, exactly, Nelson got in terms of the reimbursement rate. Basically he got it written into the bill that federal taxpayers will permanently pay 100 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid in Nebraska. Other states have to pay a percentage themselves. Not that other senators didn’t cut sweetheart deals themselves . . .

But here’s what some readers have been wondering — is there a ghost in this coverage of Nelson’s big compromise? Nelson’s compromise certainly set alarm bells off at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has generally been seen as supportive of the legislative proposals.

Let’s go back to Stupak. CBN’s David Brody has an interesting column suggesting that Stupak may still be abortion rights supporters’ worst nightmare. As in, the piece is headlined “Bart Stupak Could End Up Being Freddy Krueger.” (Because he keeps coming back, and back, and back.):

Well, for all those who think this now smooth sailing for the healthcare reform bill I have two words for you: BART STUPAK.

That’s right. Pro-Life House Democrat Bart Stupak is NOT HAPPY with the Nelson compromise in the Senate. Stupak now has the ultimate control here. Because the abortion language in the Senate bill is not to his satisfaction, he can take a few of House pro-life Democratic buddies in the House and vote the healthcare reform bill down if the stricter Stupak/Pitts language is dropped. Pelosi, Reid and President Obama are all playing with fire here.

White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod says the healthcare reform bill is on the 1 yard line. I have a better example. Remember those horror movies where you think you’ve killed the monster but it makes one last appearance because its really not dead? That’s more appropriate here.

Indeed, this Politico story makes it seem like Stupak might not be as easily won over as some of his Democratic brethren. (What do I know, though? Maybe he’s just looking for some taxpayer cash. Yes, I’m cynical and depressed from my husband making me watch C-SPAN around the clock.)

But could this be an issue of pro-life Catholics having more resilience than pro-life Protestants? And, if so, why?

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  • Patrick

    Seems the question, according to the Politico piece, is whether Stupak really has enough clout to expand his tiny constituency of pro-life Democrats. Has he now angered enough Democrats by letting his staff work with McConnell that won’t be interested in helping him kill health care reform.

    As for your question of Catholics v. Protestants, it seems like a right-field kind of question. Did Nelson back down because he was didn’t feel beholden to the Catholic lobby? Is Stupak more willing to hold health care hostage to appease the Bishops? Does the Catholic lobby even have that much influence?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Or, are we simply talking about math?

    Are pro-life Democrats more likely to survive in heavily labor, Catholic districts IN THE HOUSE, as opposed to having to run at the more complex state level? Also, the pro-abortion-rights lobby gets more powerful the closer you get to the national level.

  • Julia

    I agree with tmatt.

    I’m in one of those Democratic, heavily-labor districts with a blue dog Democrat. He is much more conservative at times in spite of being in the same state as the Democratic Senate whip and home state of the President.

  • dalea

    Just what is a subsidy and what does it mean? The stories are rather foggy on this. This calls out for an economist or accountant to issue a really detailed explanation. Which would involve the sources and applications of tax money. It appears that the Nelson bill uses a fairly standard GAAP to set abortion coverage aside. But that may not be enough for the bishops. The situation is really complicated and is being explained by reporters who are not specialists in this area.

  • dalea

    tmatt asks:

    Are pro-life Democrats more likely to survive in heavily labor, Catholic districts IN THE HOUSE, as opposed to having to run at the more complex state level?

    Having followed the coverage and discussion at Progressive sites, the situation seems to be that the Democrats have been at peace on the issue for so long that the differences we have were forgotten. There was genuine shock and surprise when the Anti-Abortion Dems spoke up; Progressives could not believe this was happening. It would be helpful to see some statistics on % of RC and positions on the subject. My impression from the little I have seen is that there is not a fairly close corolation between the two, but I could be wrong.

  • Jerry

    Despite polls showing a majority of Americans do not support the current legislative proposals

    That is correct but does not mean what some think it might mean. Many are unhappy that that the bill does not go far enough or prevents real reform as is pointed out at 538.com: http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/12/in-polls-much-opposition-to-health-care.html and many are no doubt taken in by the lies and distortions spread by those who’s only agenda is to oppose anything Obama is in favor of as documented in factcheck.org over and over again. So I’m not at all surprised that some have been taking in by the lies.

    This is in no way surprising since it manages to make things worse than the Stupak amendment did — for both sides.

    I don’t buy that. Those in favor of having abortion paid for by health insurance don’t like either proposal but favor the Senate version as being less restrictive.

  • Julia

    many are no doubt taken in by the lies and distortions spread by those who’s only agenda is to oppose anything Obama is in favor of as documented in factcheck.org over and over again

    How does factcheck.org document that people are being taken in by lies from people who oppose anything Obama favors?

    The objections I’ve read and heard are concerned about pretty specific things: Federal abortion funding, deleting Advantage plans in Medicare (I am enrolled in one I really like), cutting half a billion from Medicare which affects doctor and hospital re-imbursement, eliminating health care savings accounts, cutting funding for in-home care and hospice, and a close friend who is HR for a truck dealership says they are probably going to have to drop employee health care coverage because it will be too expensive.

    There was genuine shock and surprise when the Anti-Abortion Dems spoke up; Progressives could not believe this was happening

    I’ve been rather surprised at the lack of public advocacy from the pro-choice folks. This would explain it. I don’t think they correctly assessed the situation of Democratic Representatives from blue collar, union areas like mine where our US Representative breaks ranks with his party at times to reflect the strong feelings of his constituency – Democrats and Republicans. Chicago runs Springfield and the Illinois Senate seats, but not the Representatives.

  • dalea

    Of the 64 Democrats who voted with Stupak, 20 are pro-choice. Here is a list with their Planned Parenthood scores:

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/11/13/164753/32

    On the bungling of NARAL etc:

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/11/9/161836/460

    Beyond this, there is not much I find that goes into which Democrats voted for Stupak and why.

  • dalea

    Finally found a list of the Stupak Democrats:

    http://openleft.com/diary/15915/dems-who-voted-for-the-stupak-amendment-to-restrict-womens-rights

    There appear to be 22 votes that could be from people with a heavily RC district, 23 are from the South and the rest from Western or Plains states. There does not appear to be a preponderance of RC Reps voting for Stupak.

  • Jerry

    Julia,

    I’m not speaking to honest policy disagreements but things like this:

    http://www.factcheck.org/2009/07/misleading-gop-health-care-claims/

    http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/twenty-six-lies-about-hr-3200/

    The democrats are not pure either, but the weight is definitely tilted.

  • dalea

    Sorry for the spate of posts, but the information just keeps coming. Here is a really useful set of charts about the Stupak Democrats:

    http://openleft.com/diary/15917/targetting-dems-in-2010

    Out of New England, only 4 voted for Stupak. In the Midatlantic and upper Midwest, 23 votes. From the South, 29 votes. Western states, two time zones, 6 votes. I could not figure out how to place Minnesota.

  • Dave

    Despite polls showing a majority of Americans do not support the current legislative proposals being voted on in Congress [...]

    David Axelrod told the PBS News Hour that a majority of Americans support the legislation when told what it contains (coverage of 31M more Americans, no more insurance denials based on pre-existing conditions, etc). This is an old story; a measure has different popularity as a mere title than do its contents — a situation the MSM does nothing to dispel.

  • Jerry

    There’s another point about the title of this post that I think should be made. The real nightmare is that the hatred that now exists in Washington is so strong that one senator prayed for the death of another, albeit indirectly. Since if someone could temporarily not make it due to something, the vote could be postponed, so clearly the prayer was for a democratic death. I know who hears such prayers. http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/12/21/2157645.aspx

    “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight,” [Coburn] said on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon. “That’s what they ought to pray.”

    Perhaps some Bible study is in order: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090214083907AANqjR8

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jerry,

    Perhaps you need to read a weather report.

    Our local area was hit by a pretty epic storm that kept people from traveling.

    A friend’s wedding on Saturday here in DC was held despite the fact that less than half the guests made it and the bus carrying the remaining guests crashed.

    I’ve covered Coburn for years and anyone who knows him knows that the good doctor prayed for the death of precisely no one.

  • Frank

    What happened to religious journalism coverage?
    Narrow subjective opinions like these distorting reporting of polls doesn’t cut it here or anywhere else, considering in fact a majority of Americans want health care reform and a large number of those believe its a moral obligation.
    The discussion of journalism can address bias and censorship, but certainly the practice of it here highlights journalistic failures.

  • Dave

    Frank, part of what’s happened is newspaper economics. As the Godbeat gets more complicated — what with Pagans, and gays who want church weddings, and so forth — fewer resources can be thrown into it. The blog prinicpals can give you more details if you want them.

  • Patrick

    Mollie, would you acknowledge the “good doctor’s” comments were in poor form? especially considering things like the health of the ailing Sen. Byrd?

  • Mollie

    I’m sure that Sen. Harry Reid considered the health of the ailing Sen. Byrd before he forced him to travel to work during the blizzard, much less work through the blizzard. As such, I think we can let this silliness go.

  • Jerry

    Sorry, I don’t consider it at all silliness, the exact opposite really. You might like coburn, but I found his utterance anti-Christian and proof that for him, politics totally trumps the message of Jesus.

  • Jerry

    Adding on to my last comment is this video about people praying for Byrd to die and then being in tears because he thought the wrong senator had died and the prayer had backfired: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0uxURKIFqU All I can say is Matt 7:15-27

  • str

    I was wondering:

    With 59 members of the Democratic caucus already supporting the entire legislation, Nelson was the last holdout needed to shut down the Republican filibuster.

    What Republican filibuster are they talking about? Voting on cloture is not shutting down any filibuster if none exists.

    I agree with Mollie that the Coburn prays for Senator’s death is just plain silly. Coburn did not speak about anybody dying – and merely praying that someone will not be present is not “anti-Christian”.

    It’s the same kind of cheap shot (and unsurprisingly from the same commenter) like the reference to those opposing the bill being “taking in by the lies” of Obama haters. Maybe those supporting the bill are the ones taking in by lies (surely those that voted for Obama in the first place were taken in by lies).

    Now, I don’t know what the polls actually say – and think it quite irrelevant as it is up for Congress to decide on such things, not “the people” – but if a majority opposes the plans for whatever reasons, they oppose the plan. Some might think the plans go too far, some not far enough but neither camp can be somehow twisted in actually supporting the bill.

    I would also hope that some people would get off their RC-obsession as there was anything specifically RC about the abortion issue. Just because the RCC is the most consistent voice standing in for basic human decency (as opposed to President Obama) doesn’t make this an RC issue. Actually, it is not a religious issue at all.

  • Julia

    Add Democrat Rep. Jerry Costello of District 12 – Illinois as another Dem who voted for Stupak.

    http://thatsmycongress.com/house/repCostelloIL12111.html
    (last item at bottom of page)

  • http://woodworking-books.org Woodworking Project Plans

    There have been a few senators who have managed to play hardball on the legislation as well.