MSW's Outstanding Catholic Legislator of 2009

The award for outstanding Catholic legislator of 2009 is a shared award and a bipartisan one, something that is increasingly uncommon in Washington these days: Rep. Anh Joseph Cao of Louisiana and Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan. Both stood up to the leadership of their respective parties to cast votes that conform to Catholic social teaching.

Cao was the only Republican to vote for the health care reform bill in the House of Representatives. He did so only after pro-life provisions were included to bar federal funding of abortion in the health care reform effort. In explaining his vote, and his entire approach to issues, Cao cited his Jesuit education and the Church’s commitment to health care for all people. His vote was not likely to help his career: Cao represents an overwhelmingly Democratic district and he only won last time because his opponent had been indicted. Nor did the vote endear him to his fellow Republicans who otherwise had mounted a united front in opposition to any health care reform worthy of the name. His vote should earn him a nomination for the "Profiles in Courage" award given annually by the Kennedy Library.


All summer long, the Democratic leadership in Congress claimed that they had achieved an acceptable compromise on abortion funding known as the Capps Amendment which segregated the federal funds from the individual premiums and only paid for abortion services from the individual premiums. All summer long, many of us in the pro-life community said that the Capps Amendment was no compromise at all, that it amounted to an accounting gimmick. All summer long, Rep. Stupak said he would oppose health care unless a better arrangement was found. All summer long, the leadership ignored him but he refused to budge. Finally, on the night before the vote, still sticking to his guns, Stupak forced the leadership to allow a vote on his amendment and it passed overwhelmingly. The health care bill that then passed the House was unambiguously pro-life.

Stupak represents a conservative district in northern Michigan. If he had buckled to pressure from the leadership it might well have cost him his seat in next year’s election. Indeed, by voting for the eventual bill, he still might face his stiffest challenge in years from the Republicans. But, the issue is worth risking one’s career over and he did so.

An honorable mention from the Senate side goes to Sen. Bob Casey of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He voted for an amendment that mirrored the Stupak language that had passed the House but there were not the votes to pass it. He persisted in trying to improve the bill and he did so. He included important provisions drawn from the Pregnant Women Support Act, a policy that takes as its starting point solidarity with women facing a crisis pregnancy, which is the only starting point that will suffice to find common ground on abortion given the current state of the nation’s political life. He supported the final bill which was also improved by the changes achieved by Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. Indeed, I believe the Senate language is preferable to the House language on the issue of abortion for reasons I have outlined previously.

It is important to remember, as the USCCB has made clear time and time again, that the Church supports health care reform provided it bars federal funding of abortion. It is not enough to be opposed to health care reform just as it is not enough to be wishy-washy on abortion funding. The stance of the Church does not align neatly with the leadership of either party, which confirms its correctness. Hats off to Cao, Stupak and Casey for embodying the fullness of the Church’s teaching in their votes on health care reform this year.


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Jim McCrea
9 years ago
Cao, Si.
Stupak, No.
Think Catholic
9 years ago
I see that MSW is blogging his more detailed views on health reform over at NCR, not here.  There he explains more fully why he thinks the Senate health reform bill is better ON ABORTION than Stupak.  The reasons he gives are two.  First, to get abortion coverage under the Senate bill, you have to write a separate check from your check for regular coverage.  This will remind people that abortion and health care are different.  But this isn't different than Stupak.  You have to do the same under Stupak if you get a federal subsidy, because you have to get an entirely different abortion plan.  In addition, the Senate bill appears to contain provisions that ban the insurance company from telling people that the separate check is for abortion.  So the pedagogical effect MSW praises is diminished or lost.  The second and more important issue is that MSW points out there are four possible kinds of plans in the exchange with respect to abortion: (a) those that cover abortion and get federal subsidy; (b) those that cover abortion and don't get federal subsidy; (c) those that don't cover abortion and get federal subsidy; and (d) those that don't cover abortion and don't get federal subsidy.  Pro-lifers aren't concerned about (c) or (d).  MSW says that under the Senate bill, both (a) and (b) are subject to the "separate check" rule, causing a broader impact of that (diminished) pedagogical goal I just outlined.  He thinks this is better than Stupak, which might allow (b) to occur unchecked.  But what MSW fails to give sufficient consideration to is the fact that under Stupak (a) is outright banned-if a plan gets a federal subsidy it can't cover abortion, period.  It can under the Senate version.  And there's the rub.  Because people who NEED a federal subsidy are the same sorts of people who DON'T GET ABORTIONS becasue they can't afford abortion insurance and it isn't covered under Medicaid.  Under Stupak, these people STILL don't get a free, covered abortion subsidized by the federal government.  Under the Senate bill they get their coverage, all of them, subsidized as much as they qualify for, with only the separate check requirement.  THIS INCREASES ABORTIONS.  PERIOD.  MSW claims that maybe it doesn't, we just don't know.  That is unreasonable, self-imposed blindness.  All studies show that many people who need subsidies don't abort for lack of subsidized coverage.  Under the Senate bill they will get it.  This is what MSW thinks is "BETTER" than Stupak.  It's a sorry excuse to betray his July 14 promise on this blog that there will be no federal funding of abortion insurance. 


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