Despite polls showing a majority of Americans do not support the current legislative proposals being voted on in Congress, the Senate took us one step closer to passage this weekend. One of the interesting subplots to this unfolding national drama is the role that abortion has played in shaping the bills. Over on the House side, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., managed to insert language prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortion under the proposed plan -- either directly or through subsidies of the planned exchange. There have been a few senators who have managed to play hardball on the legislation as well. To get to the required 60 votes to invoke cloture, the writers of the bill have removed the public option and the Medicare buy-in. Others just went for cold, hard cash (to their districts). The final holdout was Sen. Ben Nelson, a pro-life Democrat from Nebraska. He changed his vote late on Friday night through a package deal.
Buying votes and making special deals is just the way the sausage is made here on Capitol Hill. But I still found Paul Kane's story on how the vote was gained to be intriguing. The piece is headlined "To sway Nelson, a hard-won compromise on abortion issue," and it explains that neither pro-choice advocates nor their pro-life counterparts are terribly pleased with the compromise. This is in no way surprising since it manages to make things worse than the Stupak amendment did -- for both sides. And I don't think either side particularly gained much either. Ah, Congress.
The deal, I think, is that states can now opt out from allowing plans to cover abortion in the insurance exchanges that will be subsidized by federal taxpayers. Now, should a state forbid plans from covering abortion, the taxpayers in those states would still be funding abortions -- since the exchanges are subsidized by federal funds. And pro-choicers now have to fight a state-by-state battle. Here's what the story says:
This was an effort to comport with the 32-year prohibition against federal funding for abortions, but the Nelson compromise is a softening of the House language, which was written by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). The Stupak amendment forbid any insurer in the exchange "to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion" -- a position that abortion rights advocates suggested would have led to many insurance providers dropping abortion coverage.
"I know this is hard for some of my colleagues to accept. And I appreciate their right to disagree. But I would not have voted for this bill without these provisions," Nelson said Saturday. With 59 members of the Democratic caucus already supporting the entire legislation, Nelson was the last holdout needed to shut down the Republican filibuster.
Some of Nelson's colleagues accused him of using the abortion issue as leverage to get a better reimbursement rate for his state under Medicaid provisions in the legislation. "You've got to compliment Ben Nelson for playing 'The Price Is Right,' " Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said.
It probably would be helpful to tell the reader what, exactly, Nelson got in terms of the reimbursement rate. Basically he got it written into the bill that federal taxpayers will permanently pay 100 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid in Nebraska. Other states have to pay a percentage themselves. Not that other senators didn't cut sweetheart deals themselves . . .
But here's what some readers have been wondering -- is there a ghost in this coverage of Nelson's big compromise? Nelson's compromise certainly set alarm bells off at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has generally been seen as supportive of the legislative proposals.
Let's go back to Stupak. CBN's David Brody has an interesting column suggesting that Stupak may still be abortion rights supporters' worst nightmare. As in, the piece is headlined "Bart Stupak Could End Up Being Freddy Krueger." (Because he keeps coming back, and back, and back.):
Well, for all those who think this now smooth sailing for the healthcare reform bill I have two words for you: BART STUPAK.
That's right. Pro-Life House Democrat Bart Stupak is NOT HAPPY with the Nelson compromise in the Senate. Stupak now has the ultimate control here. Because the abortion language in the Senate bill is not to his satisfaction, he can take a few of House pro-life Democratic buddies in the House and vote the healthcare reform bill down if the stricter Stupak/Pitts language is dropped. Pelosi, Reid and President Obama are all playing with fire here.
White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod says the healthcare reform bill is on the 1 yard line. I have a better example. Remember those horror movies where you think you've killed the monster but it makes one last appearance because its really not dead? That's more appropriate here.
Indeed, this Politico story makes it seem like Stupak might not be as easily won over as some of his Democratic brethren. (What do I know, though? Maybe he's just looking for some taxpayer cash. Yes, I'm cynical and depressed from my husband making me watch C-SPAN around the clock.)
But could this be an issue of pro-life Catholics having more resilience than pro-life Protestants? And, if so, why?