Whoa! Wild word in NYTs headline

I’ll be the first to admit that I did a double take a few days ago when I saw this shocking headline and opening salvo in the New York Times. I bet that many other old-fashioned Democrats had the same reaction.

You may want to sit down to read this:

Wary Centrists Posing Challenge in Health Care Vote

WASHINGTON – The future of President Obama’s health care overhaul now rests largely with two blocs of swing Democrats in the House of Representatives — abortion opponents and fiscal conservatives — whose indecision signals the difficulties Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces in securing the votes necessary to pass the bill.

With Republicans unified in their opposition, Democrats are drafting plans to try on their own to pass a bill based on one Mr. Obama unveiled before his bipartisan health forum last week. His measure hews closely to the one passed by the Senate in December, but differs markedly from the one passed by the House. That leaves Ms. Pelosi in the tough spot of trying to keep wavering members of her caucus on board, while persuading some who voted no to switch their votes to yes — all at a time when Democrats are worried about their prospects for re-election.

What’s so wild about that headline?

Well, to be blunt about it, how long has it been since you have read a mainstream news article in which any political leader on the pro-life side of things has been allowed under a political umbrella called “centrist”? Often, it doesn’t matter of the pro-life politico in question is actually a Democrat and a consistent progressive on most major issues (like the late Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania). Being pro-life usually means being called a “conservative,” or worse.

Meanwhile, this story even pins the “centrist” label on another groups of Democrats that is usually called “conservative.” In this case, I am not sure that it is accurate to call them “centrists.” In fact, I think many of these Democrats happily embrace the “conservative” label (I know some in Texas have done so).

Representative Dennis Cardoza, Democrat of California, typifies the speaker’s challenge. The husband of a family practice doctor, he is intimately familiar with the failings of the American health care system. His wife “comes home every night,” he said, “angry and frustrated at insurance companies denying people coverage they have paid for.”

But as a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, Mr. Cardoza is not convinced that Mr. Obama’s bill offers the right prescription. It lacks anti-abortion language he favors, and he does not think it goes far enough in cutting costs. So while he voted for the House version — “with serious reservations,” he said — he is now on the fence.

This Times story slogs through many of the “inside baseball” concerns that are dominating MSM coverage of the health-care wars at this moment — which is understandable.

However, if you surf around in this Google News file — search terms, “health care” and “abortion” — you’ll see that, once again, the issue of tax-payer-funded abortions has slipped off the radar screens in many newsrooms.

I am left asking two questions, one of which is very obvious. The second one isn’t, but I bet that Pelosi and President Obama know the answer to it.

(1) How many votes remain solid in U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak’s coalition that rallied in favor of pro-life language consistent with the existing Hyde Amendment? Follow-up question: What’s happening right now at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and in the offices of other pro-life groups that actually want to see a health-care reform bill reach the president’s desk?

(2) How many mainstream Democrats have threatened to vote against health-care reform if it contains the Stupak language that forbids tax dollars paying for abortions?

In other words, while everyone focuses on the votes of conservatives and centrists, how many liberals are willing to block the president’s attempt at health-care reform if it does not contain abortion benefits? How many of those Democrats are pro-abortion-rights Catholics and mainline Protestants (in other words, consistent members of the religious left)?

In the days ahead, please help me spot any mainstream stories that do the math on these two issues. Reading between the lines, it seems that the Times may be paying attention.

Photo: President Obama with centrist Democrat Bart Stupak.

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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.

  • Jerry

    Terry, I think we’re seeing a lot of rumors coming out from the Congressional sausage factory right now. I suspect that that there is a negotiation going on that might not show up in the bill or the reconciliation but later.

    It’s no secret that the Democrats remember very well what happened when the Clinton congress failed to pass health care reform. Given the 39% rate increase that we just saw, I’ll bet that some are considering passing something to be helpful in their upcoming campaign.

    Therefore I suspect that your questions are less important than the election campaign calculus and so we might never see answers to at least some of them.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    I disagree for one reason. The further you get into the two camps on abortion, the more you run into people who actually believe what they are saying. So far, the press has focused on the pro-life side of that. However, if you remember the emotional scenes in Pelosi’s office when the Stupak language passed the first time, the pro-abortion-rights side is PLENTY committed, as well.

    I am simply saying that these two numbers are essential parts of the pre-vote math.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Being pro-life usually means being called a “conservative,” or worse.

    God forbid.

  • dalea


    All of your questions have been pretty much answered at the left blogs. But since the sources are not MSM, I won’t post further on this.

    There are some Progressives who voted for Stupak’s amendment. Including Marcy Kaptur one of the most liberal of all Democrats. The use of the term centrist is misleading. These terms describe the Republican Party but do not have clear analogs in the Democratic Party which is a very diverse and chaotic group.

  • dalea

    What is being ignored here is the question of how the Democrats are funded. Even very conservative Democrats are dependent on contributions from Progressives. Again, the left blogs have dealt with the topic extensively. And detailed the negotiations going on among Democrats. The cautionary note is that when a Progressive announced a challenge to Conservadem Lincoln in Arkansas yesterday, the Progressive Netroots raised over $500,000 for his campaign in 18 hours. And will field workers by Saturday.

  • Dave

    Terry, is there any aspect of the press not getting religion in this post? Or is this about general journalistic sloppiness and unusual use of labels like “centrist” in a story that includes the abortion issue, which is fraught with religious overtones?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Throughout the health-care debate, journalists have continued to miss (or radically downplay) the role of religion and religious groups on both sides in this debate.

    This story is better than most, as I stressed.

  • dalea

    What is starting to drive HCR among Democrats is the upcoming primary in Arkansas. The total fundraising in less than 24 hours is approaching one million. The AFL CIO has drawn a line in the stand and is threatening to primary any Democrat who does not for it. Again, this is coming from the blogs.

  • Chip Smith

    (1) How many votes remain solid in U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak’s coalition that rallied in favor of pro-life language consistent with the existing Hyde Amendment? Follow-up question: What’s happening right now at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and in the offices of other pro-life groups that actually want to see a health-care reform bill reach the president’s desk?

    The second part of this is a good question. The first part, however, is based on a mistaken premise. The Stupak language is not consistent with the existing Hyde Amendment. It goes beyond Hyde.