It is difficult to over-estimate the degree to which last night’s vote in the House, passing a comprehensive health care reform bill, was a huge victory for the Catholic Church. Yes, for the USCCB, but also for a view of the world that the Church, at times alone, has sustained in the face of the radical individualism of American culture. The belief that heath care is a right, not a privilege, took a giant step towards legislative enactment last night. You could almost see Msgr. John A. Ryan smiling from heaven.
The idea that abortion is a different kind of issue, one in which principles are at stake that can’t be compromised, that too took a giant step forward last night. It is really stunning that of all the many complicated parts of this bill, especially the public option which became a centerpiece of political debate over the summer, and all the difficult negotiations, the only Democratic amendment allowed on the floor was the Stupak Amendment. Here, there could not be a compromise and by hanging tough, Stupak and his pro-life colleagues passed their critical amendment overwhelmingly. I ran into Stupak about ten days ago, as he was finishing dinner sitting next to DemocraticWhip James Clyburn and Caucus Chair John Larson. If you don’t think it is important to have pro-lifers in both parties, think again.
The happy result last night was a long time coming. The staff at the USCCB and the Catholic Health Association have been teaching, and learning, about health care reform for decades. They have been getting to know members of Congress for decades. They have been heavily involved in negotiations over the past weeks and months, but work on the current bill would not have come to fruition unless over the decades past, these staffs had not learned about the needs of members of Congress, the forks in the legislative road, which allies could be counted on, and all the accumulated knowledge that comes from years of engagement, oftentimes frustrating, with the political process. I was not sure two days ago that they could pull off passing a pro-life health care bill but they did. The entire Catholic Church owes them a debt of gratitude.
The battle is not done. Already, Mr. Hudson is warning that Speaker Pelosi will try and get the Stupak Amendment stripped from the final bill, citing an exchange between Cong. Boehner and Cong. Rangel as evidence, although watching the exchange, I thought it was more about Republican desperation than anything else, as well as a certain churlishness on the Minority Leader’s part. The Stupak Amendment not only passed by an overwhelming margin, it is now the expressed will of the House. The members of the House that are appointed to the Conference Committee will have to uphold that expressed will. Yes, I am all for being watchful, but if this right-wing paranoia continues, look for InsideCatholic to start a series on alternative theories about the JFK assassination.
In fact, the passage of the House bill with Stupak’s amendment last night immeasurably strengthens the hand of pro-life Democratic Senators as well. The courageous, lone Republican vote from Louisiana Congressman Ahn ‘Joseph’ Cao, a devout Catholic, hopefully makes it more likely that Maine’s two Republican senators will consider voting for health care reform.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched an EWTN interview with Cardinal Francis George in which the irrepressible Raymond Arroyo tried to pin blame for the Capps Amendment on the USCCB staff, to which Cardinal George replied, "That is a lie. It is a vicious rumor." Right-wingers have long criticized the staff at the USCCB but the bishops and their staff have really accomplished something huge. Pro-life Health Care Reform. They did not do it alone, but I am not going to wait to hold my breath to see conservatives compliment Pelosi for allowing the Stupak amendment to come to a vote, nor of President Obama for embracing the bill with the Stupak restrictions. (Yes, Obama could have intervened to try and stop Stupak’s amendment and he did not. Is that the action of the "most pro-abortion president in history"?) There is kudos aplenty to go around this morning, but I really can’t express sufficiently my admiration for the work of the USCCB and CHA. All uninsured Americans owe them a debt of gratitude. All future expectant mothers who discover that their health care covers the cost of pre-natal care but not abortion services owe them a debt of gratitude. And, all of us Catholics who care about human dignity and human life owe them a debt of gratitude. Now, on to the Senate and let’s win there too.