On the Other Hand

On Monday, I made the argument that the differences between the House/Stupak bill and the final/Senate bill were so small, as they relate to abortion, that those differences should not be the ground for opposing the final/Senate bill. I directed my criticism at the USCCB, and specifically at their point man on life issues, Mr. Richard Doerflinger. In a comment to my post, Mr. John Carr, who also works at the USCCB, writes that I overstate Mr. Doerflinger’s influence and that if I have objections to the USCCB stance, I should direct it to the bishops. I stand corrected on the issue of Mr. Doerflinger’s influence, but I stand by the basic argument of my post, that the differences are so thin (and in some ways I think the Senate bill is preferable from a pro-life perspective), that this should not be the grounds for bringing down health care.

This argument, of course, works both ways. What if, tomorrow night, it becomes clear that Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not have the 216 votes needed for passage. Will she do what she did in November and permit a vote on the Stupak Amendment? Why not? Then, in November, the choice was between Stupak and the Capps amendment, and that was a real choice with real consequences. I am afraid that by now Stupak has taken on symbolic importance for both sides – and touched the strings of political loyalties and hatreds – and while people of good will can always negotiate policy, they will die for a symbol.

Advertisement

Why did the pro-choice groups oppose the Stupak amendment with such vigor? They argued that it went beyond Hyde. The Stupak amendment did not ban insurance policies that cover abortion from the exchanges, but it insisted that any company that offered a policy that covered abortion must offer an identical policy that did not cover abortion. The chief actuary for the insurance companies said that realistically this effectively meant that no company would offer policies that cover abortion, because the pool would be too small. I said at the time that this was the problem with Stupak but no one focused on how to fix that precise difficulty. Now, the Senate bill I think will have the exact same result although it may take a few months for people to tire of writing and companies to tire of processing and accounting for the separate checks for abortion coverage. And, yes, this all could have been avoided if the Senate had adopted Sen. Bob Casey's suggestion of an individual opt-out provision. But, we are here now. And, the question for the Democratic Party may be: Which is more important, your commitment to health care reform or your commitment to abortion rights groups?

I am not sure where the Democrats would come down on that question. In November, Speaker Pelosi threw the pro-choice groups under the bus, but then she could assure them that their concerns would be addressed subsequently. There is no "subsequently" after this week. It was telling, last November, that President Obama – who has been wrongly vilified by pro-life groups as "the most pro-abortion President ever" – did nothing to rescue the Capps amendment.

There is a further complication. If the Democrats need the Stupak coalition to pass the bill, the amendment will have to be included in the reconciliation bill. But, because the issue has no impact on the federal budget, it could be excluded from the reconciliation bill under the Byrd rule. All forty-one Republican senators have vowed not to permit any exceptions to the Byrd rule. In an op-ed in the Washington Post’s "On Faith" the bishops who have been at the heart of the negotiations note this fact: "On the other hand, Republicans pledge to do all they can to defeat the legislation by threatening to object to any improvements in the Senate bill, further complicating the process." If the House accepts Stupak, it is hoped the bishops will push as hard for the bill’s passage as they are currently pushing to defeat it. It is also worth noting that if the Senate bill really did fund abortions with federal dollars, it would have an impact on the budget and would meet the standard of the Byrd rule. By calling attention to the need to get around the Byrd rule, the bishops unintentionally gut their principal argument against the bill.

The bishops’ op-ed also takes note of the bill’s provisions regarding immigrants. These provisions are truly shameful. Still, a society that accepts its obligation to provide health care to all its citizens is a society more likely to extend that health care to immigrants. And, the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform will allow legislators to revisit these harsh provisions. The immigration language should not be a deal breaker.

In all these complicated negotiations, it is important to recognize that most, if not all, of the principal actors are acting in good faith. I commend the bishops for declining to write fellow Catholics off, or question their Catholicity, because they have reached different conclusions about the bill from those arrived at by the conference. Their concerns have been well known and well stated from the beginning, including their commitment to universal health care, which is why they are still party to the negotiations. If health care fails, there will be plenty of blame to go around, and the blame should not be foisted upon the bishops themselves nor their staff at the USCCB. As the President never tires of saying, if this were easy it would have been done along time ago. Passing universal health care is not easy, but it is urgent, and that sense of urgency applies equally to the USCCB and to the pro-choice groups that may, come this weekend, have to bite the bullet and accept the Stupak Amendment again.

Michael Sean Winters

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tom Maher
7 years 8 months ago
Why even suggest that the USCCB and its staff may be responisble for the failure to legislate healthcare reform? Why make the Catholic bishops the fall guy for the self-defeating political efforts of the Democratic party? After a year of trying and with super-majorities in both Houses of Congress, the backing of the President and the press, the Democratic party has shown itself to be its own worst enemy.

Democrats in congress have eroded public support and confidence by continuosuly overreaching. The size,scope and severity of impact of their healthcare bills do not make sense among themselves let alone most American.

Most Americana and even most Democrats are just not followers of the far-left-leaning leadership of the Democratic party. The Democratic party and everyone else needs to learn the obvious: nothing succeeds without public support.
James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
Stupak will never pass the Senate without Republican votes, as well as enough Democratic votes (there are now 7) to waive the Byrd rule. Unless 13 additional Democratic votes can be found, Stupak is dead, Brown votes as a Republican and Snowe changes her vote, Stupak is dead. Given the position of the insurance companies that no abortion coverage will be provided under Stupak, it can hardly be called "abortion neutral." While the bishops would like that outcome, it is a bit of an overreach and they are lying if they maintain that their goal is "abortion neutrality."

I am not going to lift a finger to back their play, especially since they can't get the National Right to Life Committee to make adopting the Senate Bill with Stupak a must vote to keep a perfect pro-life rating. When they can get Douglas Johnson to support the bill as amended, I will pay attention. Until that, no chance. Stupak and the bishops have been too cute on this issue and deserve to lose. I believe that the Speaker is about to oblige them.
James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
It is a myth that the public does not support this bill for the reasons people say they don't. Half of the opposition comes from people who want a stronger bill with a public option. Only a small fraction buys into the falsehood that this is a government takeover of healthcare (which is almost entirely dependent on government to operate the way that it does - from Medicare to Medicaid to subsidized insurance). The current bill is just correcting the fact that the system excludes some people due to their poverty or their medical history.

The whole concept of private medical insurance is dependent on government grants of priviledge, since without those, insurance company shareholders would be fully liable for the care provided to policy holders, rather than having that liability limited by the amount that they put at risk. In what is called "Libertopia" if you sell me insurance without a state to limit your liability, I can take your house if you do not safe enough to pay out for my care and I make a valid claim. In that light, I find the objections to a "government takeover" to be faux libertarianism.
David Nickol
7 years 8 months ago
The Hyde Amendment - which permits abortion in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother - does not embody Catholic doctrine. The fact that the USCCB chose the principle of the Hyde Amendment by which to judge health care reform legislation makes clear that from the outset they have had at least one foot firmly planted in the realm of practical politics, in which compromise is an essential element. The bishops already compromised the Catholic principle of zero tolerance for abortion by using the Hyde Amendment as the standard. No Catholic doctrine is at stake if the position the bishops have taken is not strictly reflected in the final health care bill. 
Pearce Shea
7 years 8 months ago
I think Tom Maher is right. The success or failure of this legislation ought to be laid at the feet of the legislators. Blaming the Bishops is like blaming the farm lobbies when congress re-ups all the various agricultural protectionism laws. 
Think Catholic
7 years 8 months ago
President Obama didn't save Capps over Stupak?  This is a bizarre argument.  The Senate bill is the equivalent of Capps-they're both accounting gimmicks-and it is due to the hard-line pro-abortion stance of President Obama that we now have the Senate Bill and we don't have Stupak.  President Obama joined Pelosi and Reid to ensure that the Stupak Amendment would never become law because it would be changed by the Senate and never given a chance for resurrection.  That's the most pro-abortion president ever at work.
The Byrd Rule's application to Stupak could be overruled by VP Biden, letting a bare majority add it. But the President and Pelosi and Reid have no interest in making Stupak part of the bill.  They've been working non-stop since the House vote to keep it out.
James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
Even with the VP overruling Byrd (which is the nuclear option), Stupak is still 4 votes short (assuming Brown votes with the GOP). It would certainly be a bipartisan spectacle to see the bill pass with all but one Republican vote.
Tom Maher
7 years 8 months ago
The Rasmussen health care tracking polls as of Monday, March 15, 2010 shows a majority of voting Americans oppossed to the Healthcare bills being considered by Congress, 53% oppossed to 43% in favor. This bedrock majority oppossition has been around for months.

The Catholic Bishops have considerable moral influence when they come out against the current healthcare reform bills for not definitively prohibit the federal funding of abortions. But the Catholic Bishops opposition does not explain the strong opposition by the public against the healthcare bills.

Much of this opposition of course are not even Catholics. But Catholics oppossed to healtcare are likely to have very indepedently made up their own mind for a host of very compelling reasons. We are not all Catholic school boys and girls slavishly waiting to be instructed on what to think. Independently we just do not want to pay for abortions as part of healthcare. We as adults, on our own, very strongly object to the federal funding or facilitation of abortions.
7 years 8 months ago
"Rasmussen is considered in the field to be the partisan odd-man out."
 
They were FIRST poll to show the race in Mass was closing, and the FIRST to show Scott Brown in the lead.  Like you, most democrats wrote them off as partisan hacks.  Who won?
James Lindsay
7 years 8 months ago
Rasmussen is considered in the field to be the partisan odd-man out. Using them as a source is the equivalent of asking the President to take advice from Michael Steele about election prospects should health care reform pass.

You can, of course, trust who you want - however don't be shocked if their usual push-poll results do not reflect what the voters really think. In other words, I would not bet the farm on what they say (never believe your own propoganda).
Think Catholic
7 years 8 months ago
Mr Bindler, you are wrong.  If VP Biden overrules the Byrd ruling, only a majority will be needed to pass the pro-life amendment, so if it fails, it will be the fault of Democrats (who have a wide majority)

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A 14-year-old boy receives medical treatment at Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, after he was in injured during an attack on a mosque (AP Photo/Amr Nabil).
The pope described the attack as a “wanton act of brutality directed at innocent civilians gathered in prayer.”
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
“The Senate proposal is fundamentally flawed as written and requires amendment,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane in a Nov. 22 letter to senators.
Pope Francis greets people at the “Regional Hub,” a government-run processing center for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, in Bologna, Italy, Oct. 1. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)
Although he named no countries, Vatican observers believe he is referring especially to political leaders in several western and eastern European countries.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
For Thanksgiving, we give you an inside look into what Jesuit basketball teams to watch out for this season.
Olga SeguraNovember 24, 2017