Health care: So who is cheering?

As you would expect, my morning email was full of angry press statements from conservative groups — with a heavy evangelical-right flavor. Most of the emails attacked Rep. Bart Stupak and his circle of Democrats who, in the end, agreed to back the U.S. Senate health-care reform legislation, after President Barack Obama agreed to issue an executive order clarifying that this bill would not end the ban on federal funding of abortions.

Of course, it was the stance of pro-abortion-rights activists that this bill already honored that ban, while the leaders of mainstream anti-abortion groups disagreed. That was the issue all along.

However, it must be noted that these press releases, as a rule, came from groups that opposed this health-care reform bill — period. I have yet to see a major, mainstream news report that quoted the specific objections of pro-life groups that backed health-care reform, with some editing on the legislation linked to life issues.

For example, did anyone see this quote in a major story?

Health care reform must protect life and conscience, not threaten them. The Senate bill extends abortion coverage, allows federal funds to pay for elective abortions (for example, through a new appropriation for services at Community Health Centers that bypasses the Hyde amendment), and denies adequate conscience protection to individuals and institutions. Needed health care reform must keep in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy that neither elective abortion nor plans which include elective abortion can be paid for with federal funds.

That, of course, was language drawn from a last-minute press statement from the U.S. Catholic bishops. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the bishops were left out of the final, climactic stories before the vote.

Once again: It was not surprising that people who opposed this health-care reform effort (think GOP) stood against it to the end. The news, all along, was rooted in conflicts between Democrats who wanted to see the bill pass. We now know that this bill could not have passed without Stupak & Co.

I know that we avoid commentary pieces, but I offer this link to a piece by CBN’s David Brody because it does not appear to have been written in anger, as was the case in most of the niche, conservative-news statements that I have received in the past 12 hours or so. Instead, Brody seems to have grasped one of the central facts of the story — which is that Stupak trusted Obama, in large part, because they both wanted the bill to pass. Here’s Brody:

Look, the way Bart Stupak sees it he is a hero. He thinks that he has preserved the ban on federal funding of abortion and thinks his vote will bring hope to the 30 million people or so that supposedly will be insured under the House bill. … Some will call Stupak a big tease. Others will call him a sell out or just plain weak for bowing to the pressure put on him from Democratic leadership. Maybe others will just think he’s plain dumb for believing that an Executive Order will make everything perfect. But I think all of that name calling misses the point.

Here’s the point: Let’s stop pretending that Bart Stupak is some sort of CONSERVATIVE pro-lifer. He’s not. He’s a Democrat who is OK with this LIBERAL healthcare bill. So therefore his mindset is not to try to kill this bill. He’s working overtime to save it, thus he’s willing to discuss ALL alternatives when it comes to his principled conviction on abortion.

I am sure that Stupak and others who back the compromise will bristle at that language. However, I simply wanted to note that Brody gets this fact down — the battle was between Democrats who wanted to see health-care reform reach the president’s desk.

This brings me back to that bishops-shaped hole in the mainstream coverage.

At this point, mainstream readers still do not know what the fighting was all about, in terms of hearing the key voices voice their concerns in their own language. The basic Washington Post report on the Sunday-night drama simply offers this:

The last issue resolved before the vote was the long-standing question of whether federal subsidies in the bill could be used to pay for insurance policies that provide abortion services. A handful of antiabortion Democrats feared that the Senate language didn’t provide adequate restrictions, and they refused to vote for the legislation unless the firewall was made more secure.

Democrats who support abortion rights refused to accept any legislative changes. But on Tuesday, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the leader of the antiabortion faction, ran into White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at the House gym, and Emanuel offered a compromise: Obama could issue an executive order clarifying the ban on federal funding of abortion. Stupak and six colleagues eventually agreed to the executive order, which was announced by the White House on Sunday afternoon and is scheduled to be issued after the bill is signed.

“I’ve always supported health-care reform,” Stupak told reporters, after concluding marathon talks with party leaders. But he added, “There was a principle that meant more to us than anything, and that was the sanctity of life.”

So, was Stupak naive? Was he facing political threats that have not been made public? And what, pray tell, is the difference between Stupak’s view of the Senate bill and that of the U.S. Catholic bishops? What are the facts in the legislation on which they disagree?

Look at the three camps that wanted health care, right now. It’s clear that abortion-rights activists believe they have something to cheer about, because Stupak’s language was defeated. As the New York Times reported:

Mr. Stupak described the order as a significant guarantee that would “protect the sanctity of life in health care reform.” But supporters of abortion rights — and some opponents — said the order merely reaffirmed what was in the bill.

Thus, Stupak is cheering, after his tense compromise. But the bishops are not cheering. There’s a story in there.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • dalea

    tmatt asks:

    For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the bishops were left out of the final, climactic stories before the vote.

    I think it was because the Democratic Party leadership has decided to ignore the bishops and instead rely on social justice Catholics for votes. This is what has been going on for decades, the HRC voting simply formalized the situation. On the left blogs, there are always postings from Catholics on how the bishops have become a right wing clique not in line with Catholic social teachings. And since the fight was within the Democratic Party, the press followed the party’s lead and ignored the bishops who have no influence among Democrats any longer. By their focusing on abortion to the exclusion of other concerns, the bishops have marginalized themselves among Democrats.

  • dalea

    The press began covering this disconnect in the 2004 election when the bishop of St Louis stated that Kerry should be denied communion. This was discussed endlessly in publications Democrats read. The MSM covered the RC side of the story with very little focus on the Democrats themselves. In the left wing media there was profound shock from Catholics which was widely reported. Since then, the consensus among Democrats who are Catholic has been to see the bishops as a right wing clique who exist apart from Catholic social teachings. This argument has been very developed among Democrats but I have never seen any MSM coverage. The extent to which Catholic Democrats have disregard for the bishops is a good subject for coverage.

  • Jerry

    the battle was between Democrats who wanted to see health-care reform reach the president’s desk.

    Since the republicans had opted totally out of the process, that statement is self-evidently true. That does not mean that the anti-abortion Democrats were not committed totally to their position which they put above passing the health care bill.

    One thing that I’ve seen no reporting on was who performed the legal analysis of the Senate bill since at least some people examined it and believed it did uphold the current status-quo? Legal language can be quite arcane as anyone who has ever dealt with a legal document knows.

    As I mentioned in the earlier topic and repeat here, there are some such as Rep Kildee, who believed that the Senate language is sufficient and said:

    “I’m not going to jeopardize my eternal salvation,” said Kildee, declaring himself “pro-life for the born and the unborn.

    Also, when you wrote:

    Thus, Stupak is cheering, after his tense compromise. But the bishops are not cheering. There’s a story in there.

    There’s a story in what everyone connected with the bill who care about abortion feels about the result not just the Bishops and Rep. Stupak.

    And that lack of well-rounded discussion which includes not only the few but what most Americans feel is a real ghost in this story.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Dalea:

    ” … the bishops have become a right wing clique not in line with Catholic social teachings.”

    That’s just crazy. What have the bishops done that is right wing, other than defend church teachings on moral theology? Environment? Immigration? What?

    Have the bishops let up on economic justice issues? How?

  • dalea

    The arguments I have seen have referred to political choices made by the hierarchy. People who call themselves Catholic have reported that given a choice between a candidate who is good on all issues except abortion and one who is bad on all issues except abortion, the church keeps pushing the anti-abortion one. There have been numerous reports of this, of how prolife Catholics end up endorsing pro-deathpenalty, pro-war, anti economic justice candidates. Senator Kerry was an excellent example; in line with RC teachings on everything but how to implement abortion issues. The bishops chose to go after him, not Bush.

    The recent flare up with Rep Kennedy was another issue. The common left response seemed to be why don’t they show the same fervor on any other issue? The bishops could admonish Pat Buchanan for his anti-immigrant statements, his pro death penalty statements but they never do. Just liberals who do not support prohibiting abortion.

    Here is a link the DKos for the last 2 weeks stories that mention the RC:

    http://www.dailykos.com/search?offset=0&old_count=30&string=catholic+church&type=both&sortby=relevance&search=Search&count=30&wayback=20160&wayfront=0

  • Chip Smith

    So, was Stupak naive? Was he facing political threats that have not been made public??

    I’m never sure how to respond to political questions asked by the contributors, especially when it comes to abortion. You consider abortion to be a religious issue by default, and ask questions about the politics involved, but want the comments to only stick to the journalism issues.

    My guess is that Stupak boxed himself into a corner with his rhetoric. The difference between his language and the Senate amounted to a semantic game about accounting. The pro-life Democrats in the Senate and a steady trickle of pro-life Democrats in the House recognized this. Stupak needed some concession to use to justify his switch, and an executive order that amounts to saying the law that already applies to abortion coverage will now extra-apply worked.

    An unexplored issue about this, which Stupak hinted at during his speech last night, is how hcr will make it easier for pregnant women to choose life. I’ve read Bishops in Europe who have pointed to the lack of universal health care as one reason abortion rates are higher in the US than in many European countries.

    And what, pray tell, is the difference between Stupak’s view of the Senate bill and that of the U.S. Catholic bishops? What are the facts in the legislation on which they disagree?

    From what I have read of publications on the USCCB website, it is hard to pin down. As dalea has pointed out in other posts, the differences amount to different approaches to accounting. And they don’t mention the large subsidies that employer-provided health care plans receive even if they include abortion coverage.

    Beyond immigration, have the bishops worked as hard on any issue as they did on killng health care reform?

    Same sex marriage? The question for me, as a non-Catholic, is whether the Bishops only get publicly involved in politics when their position aligns with the Republicans party, or does the press only cover their public involvement in politics when the Bishops align with the Republican party.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Folks:

    If the only differences in the two sets of language amounted to “different approaches to accounting,” why did the Democrats on the cultural left threaten to withhold their votes if the Stupak/bishops language was used again?

    Why did the left say IT would take down HCR if Stupak won in round two?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    dalea:

    What you are saying is that these Catholics disagree with the writings of Pope John Paul II who, while he questioned the death penalty (I am totally opposed, BTW), said that abortion is in fact a singular issue that could not be compromised.

    Now note: Catholics can compromise in the political arena to make progress toward justice for the unborn.

    But Catholics cannot openly reject the church’s teachings time after time after time — said the pope — without penalty AS PRACTICING CATHOLICS. That was the heart of the Patrick Kennedy/Rudy/Kerry/Arnold/etc. showdown.

    The press needs to understand the Vatican’s teachings on these issues and the levels of opposition in the doctrine itself. When in doubt, consult the Catechism.

  • Chip Smith

    If the only differences in the two sets of language amounted to “different approaches to accounting,” why did the Democrats on the cultural left threaten to withhold their votes if the Stupak/bishops language was used again?

    Maybe the cultural left is just as likely to overreact as the cultural right when it comes to an issue like abortion.

    I also think that a fuller answer to your question has to take the entire HCR process into account. The cultural left has not received what it wanted from HCR. Until the last couple of weeks, Obama’s attention (and the media’s attention) has focused on Republicans and conservative Democrats. Every compromise over the past year has moved the bill further to the right. Stupak makes his deal, then the pro-life Democrats in the Senate find language they accept, and then Stupak’s raises objections that seem extremely nit-picky. To those on the left, it felt like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute. That does not excuse their overreaction, but it helps to explain it.

  • David Adrian

    See “The Disappearing Pro-Life Democrat” by W. James Antle III in The American Spectator at http://spectator.org/archives/2010/03/22/the-disappearing-pro-life-demo. It confirms what I’ve long thought, that the term “pro-life Democrat” is an oxymoron.

  • Jerry

    Maybe the cultural left is just as likely to overreact as the cultural right when it comes to an issue like abortion.

    It seems to me that both extremes are very sensitive to 1% differences. I’ll stipulate that there is are minor differences but ones that many on both sides can accept as being roughly equivalent. Both extremes are unwilling to compromise at that 1% level especially when any sort of compromise means that their real goals are not being realized.

    Put yourself in either sides shoes and sing “I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor” http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/boa-constrictor/ because I think that is what it feels like in a moral and political sense and to both extremes and what they think the outcome will be.

  • dalea

    tmatt says:

    What you are saying is that these Catholics disagree with the writings of Pope John Paul II who, while he questioned the death penalty (I am totally opposed, BTW), said that abortion is in fact a singular issue that could not be compromised.

    From what I have seen and heard, these Catholics really disliked JPII. They seem to be the type of Catholic who rejected Humanae Vita and all the teachings that flow from it. And there seem to be a lot of them, particularly on the left. Were I in that position, I would have left long ago. They stay for reasons I can not fathom.

  • George

    The media on the Right and Left both dismiss Bart Stupak, and it becomes comic how contorted the media tries to portray him while getting to stretch out the drama. As often the case when someone has offended both far of the political spectrum equally, it usually means he’s dead center of the issues. I would suggest that Stupak is closer to where most Americans are, and Stupak is a truly an American hero, being pro-life and pro health care. Many on the Left will be happy to see a Pro-Life leader who actually cares about kids after their born. Many on the Right should be proud to see a leader standing up for his Pro-life convictions even if they don’t grasp his sense of the necessity of health care reform.

    Its great that the media has a hard time pigeonholing someone, when someone defies the tired stereotypes, because that is where the real story is and where most Americans are – not on the extreme ends of the political rancor.

  • David Adrian

    Nonsense, George. See William McGurn’s column, “Pro-life Democrats, R.I.P.,” in today’s Wall Street Journal (at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704117304575137941873389952.html). Stupak simply surrendered his position.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    tmatt – “the cultural left”? “the left”?

    For a person who advocates covering multiple shades of belief and approach, those strike me as awfully monolithic terms…

  • George

    Wow, did you expect a Rupert Murdock publication do anything other than mercilessly attack Stupak, David? Shame on the WSJ for attacking a centrist Democrat standing up for his religion at the same time while trying to pass healthcare reform. Ironically the media has gotten sucked into the political undertows and lost sight of solid ground. Most Americans don’t give a lot of credence to all the political warrior shield pounding like the media does, and Americans are interesting in real solutions to real problems like the broken health care system in the US. Most people, like me, respect Stupak as a reasonable guy trying to get things done, and not giving up his convictions. The media is behind the eight ball on this issue, since the majority of people who want healthcare reform don’t have the massive budget for buying media attention.

  • David Adrian

    George, I challenge you to refute point for point what Mr. McGurn has written, rather use that tired, old dodge, an ad hominem swipe at Mr. Murdock.

  • Carmen

    I don’t hate Mr Stupak. I don’t hate what he did. I choose not to hate. But, I do feel sorry for Bart Stupak. The humiliation and angst suffered by Neville Chamberlain after holding a piece of paper and claiming “..Peace in our time!”
    and then watching as Europe was ravaged, may be shared by Bart when the perfidy of Mr Obama reneges on the deal. It is very sad.

  • David Adrian

    PS, George, see “Stupak’s fall from pro-life grace,” Kathleen Parker’s column in today’s Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/23/AR2010032302841.html?wpisrc=nl_pmopinions. She writes, in part, “Alas, Stupak couldn’t hold. Ultimately, he was weak and overwhelmed by raw political power. History is no stranger to such moments, but this one needs to be understood for what it was. A deception.”

  • George

    So the media chatter class will say just about anything, and we can always find one of its rank saying just the opposite. I prefer action to words, and Bart Stupak acted on his beliefs as a duly elected representative of people in his state. Don’t take my word for it or some media hack, Stupak speaks well for himself about groups that oppose his actions, “I question, did they want to protect the sanctity of life, or did they want to defeat health care?”

    http://dailycaller.com/2010/03/23/stupak-says-catholic-bishops-pro-life-groups-tried-to-use-abortion-to-defeat-health-bill/

    The media sure isn’t giving Stupak a fair shake for his courage. Eventually it will sink in as the veil of lies about the HCR debate settles down. Obviously some folks are not satisfied with results from our democratic processes, but attacks on Stupak and the existence of ‘Pro-life Democrats’ mock civility and seem to encourage the wackos who would threaten Stupak’s life and his family – because he stood up for his Pro-life convictions.

  • Julia

    Senator Kerry was an excellent example; in line with RC teachings on everything but how to implement abortion issues. The bishops chose to go after him, not Bush.

    1. Kerry claimed to be a practicing Catholic; Bush not so.
    Kerry had every right to take whatever position he wanted, but not to also call himself a Catholic in good standing.

    2. Abortion is a paramount issue. There is even a rare canon law automic excommunication for facilitating an abortion. The other issues you mention are prudential.

    3. I would bet $1,000 that the great majority of Catholic bishops routinely vote Democratic on all issues other than abortion.

    4. Almost all long-time Catholic Democrat politicians started out as anti-abortion until they changed their positions due to party considerations. This is a link to an article about the Hyannisport strategy session that came up with cover for the Kennedys to change position. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123086375678148323.html

    5. Please don’t use RC as short-hand for Catholic; we don’t use it ourselves and it kind of rankles.