GOP Sees ‘Win-Win’ as Stupak Splits Dems

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Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 6:00 am
Anti-abortion protesters in front of the U.S. Capitol

Anti-abortion protesters in front of the U.S. Capitol (Flickr: John Stephen Dwyer)

On Saturday, 64 Democrats backed Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) amendment to prevent abortions from being funded with taxpayer money in the comprehensive House health care bill. On Wednesday morning, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) attempted to soothe the jangled nerves of pro-abortion rights activists who were lighting up switchboards and issuing not-another-dime fund-raising threats against the party for letting it happen.

“It was not 40 votes that we were trying to get with this amendment,” Clyburn said in an interview with MSNBC. “It was 10 votes. And that’s the fact.”

[GOP]Republicans and anti-abortion rights activists weren’t buying it. Clyburn’s after-the-fact spin was incorrect; Democrats could have passed the bill without courting the anti-abortion rights members of their conference who wanted Stupak’s amendment. By letting it pass, a decision intended to give some temporary cover to vulnerable incumbents ended up opening a rift in their party.

In interviews with TWI, Republicans and activists explained their theory behind a contentious–and in the end, rewarding–heat-of-the-moment decision to back an amendment to a bill that all of them want to see go down in flames. The move to back Stupak’s amendment came after lobbying from a bevy of anti-abortion rights groups, including–perhaps most importantly–the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. And while some conservatives are still critical of the party for not killing the amendment and trying to sink the bill with it, most are coming around to the view that the alliance with conservative Democrats had, in the words of one long-time conservative activist, “dropped a bomb” in the Democratic conference.

“If defeating Stupak wouldn’t [have changed] the outcome on Saturday,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), “then it is clearly evident that having it in and sparking a civil war amongst the Democrats is the best way to stop the overall bill.”

The Republican rush to support Stupak’s amendment was controversial from the very moment it occurred. Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), who was in the end the only Republican to vote “present” on the amendment, scorched fellow members of the minority for not joining him and sinking it. National Right to Life Committee warned Republicans it would score a “present” vote as a “no.”

The Stupak amendment gave political cover to Democrats who voted for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker,” Shadegg said in a statement. “If Republicans had voted ‘present’ as a group, since we are the party of Life, we would have defined the ‘present’ vote as the pro-life vote. Doing so would have denied the purported pro-life Democrats cover. Given the extremely narrow margin of victory for the bill, it’s highly likely that without the Stupak language, it would have been defeated.”

Several other conservatives made this same argument to TWI, and criticized anti-abortion rights groups like the Family Research Council, National Right to Life, and Americans United for Life for backing the amendment and counting “aye” votes as “pro-life” votes. But in a lengthy Monday blog post for The Weekly Standard, John McCormack captured much of the thinking of Republican staffers and strategists–that Democrats were going to win the vote no matter what, and that to vote down the Stupak amendment would have been hypocritical and cynical. “Bringing down Stupak,” wrote McCormack, “would have seriously hurt the effort to defeat Obamacare.”

Anti-abortion rights groups backed up that assessment. “If the pro-life members of the House suddenly, cynically, pulled out the rug from under Stupak,” said Doug Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, “they would have been asking for defeat. I mean, that would have been a terrific gift to the left. Pro-abortion groups–I’m including pro-Obama front groups who claim to be pro-life groups–would have shouted from the rooftops: ‘You see, they don’t really care about the abortion issue, and when they had a chance they torpedoed it!’ It would have been a train-wreck.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion rights Susan B. Anthony List, agreed with Johnson. Her group marshaled 300,000 emails and phone calls to Congress to back the amendment. “For every single Republican save one to insist on a vote on this, then kill it with ‘present’ votes, would have been cynical beyond words,” Dannenfelser said. The situation for Republicans now, she argued, is a “win-win,” as it forces Democrats to stiff dozens of key members. Only one Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.), voted for the bill, doing so after backing the Stupak amendment.

“Think about [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi looking at two letters on her desk,” said Dannenfelser. “I’ve got one letter saying if I don’t take it out, 41 Democrats will vote against it. I’ve got another letter saying keep it in or pro-life Democrats will vote against it. Either way you come up with coalition that can defeat it.”

The ripples of the Stupak vote are hitting the Senate before they can hit Pelosi. A major reason for Republican and conservative self-congratulation about the amendment is the puzzle it’s created for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). A semi-reliable vote against abortion rights until he became his party’s Senate leader in 2004, Reid is in the position of crafting language that can appeal to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)–who has said he approves of the Stupak amendment–provide cover to Democrats like Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), and avoid losing pro-abortion rights votes like that of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

“They’re in a major bind,” said Michael Franc, director of government relations at the Heritage Foundation. “The only way to get out of it is for one of the two Democratic camps to go against something they believe deeply. There has to be intellectual flanking movement, somebody convincing them that the future of party at stake, they can’t let this 100-year achievement flounder over this one thing.”

For anti-abortion rights activists, the muddle is a victory nine months in the making. “If it hadn’t been for National Right to Life working in the trenches since January,” said Douglas Johnson, “this legislation would have passed sooner and by a larger margin. Remember, the president and the speaker and much of the mainstream media had been saying all year long that abortion wasn’t in the bill. If they had been able to pull off this smuggling operation, it would have moved faster and passed sooner.” It happened, said Johnson, because of “the tenacity of pro-life Democrats like Stupak.”

None of the anti-abortion rights groups that supported an “aye” vote on the Stupak amendment will support the final bill. Dannenfelser and Johnson pointed to so-called “rationing,” that Conservatives fear would empower bureaucrats to deny care to some patients, and the exclusion of conscience provisions in the health care bill as surefire reasons why “pro-life” activists would be unable to support it. At the same time, they and Republicans suggested that if the health care bill survived with much of the Stupak language intact, it would be a victory unthinkable just a few months ago.

“If the Stupak amendment is in there, I would definitely define it as one of most important life votes in more than a decade,” said Johnson. “You’d have to go back to 1993. Clinton comes in. Everyone thinks the Hyde amendment [former Rep. Henry Hyde's (R-Ill.) legislation that banned federal funds paying for abortions] is gone, and they are absolutely shocked the day we renew Hyde on the floor of the House.”

This article has been updated for clarity.

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17 Comments

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angellight
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 7:59 am

Democrats must not be “hoodwinked and fooled” into an abortion fight that does not really exist! We should know that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would never let abortion go by the wayside. We should be smarter than that… AND, we must keep our “eye” on the Prize — and the long awaited and wished for Goal of healthcare for all Americans and lower premiums for those who are already insured. Democrats have a chance to lead by actually doing something good for Americans — like health care, which is tied to the deficit and the bankrupting of businesses and families. We must keep our “eye” on the Prize and not be labeled with the title of another “do nothing Congress”!

GOP politicians and operatives continue to dishonestly and deceptively say that they cannot support a public option, they claim that they want to keep costs down for the American people! Really? This they claim all the while knowing that a public option/competition is the only way to really control cost and to bring about true reform thereby putting a definite Halt to the “out of control” medical costs and premiums crippling people and businesses today, making it harder and harder for average Americans and young people to realize and take advantage of the slowly, slipping away American Dream. One could ask themselves, If you happen to lose your job today or tomorrow in these unstable economic times and at a time when we currently do not have healthcare reform for all, who would pay you or your familiy's health care costs, that is, if you are lucky enough to be able to see a doctor without insurance? This American Dream, now being called Socialism by the GOP has slowly been slipping away, and is in the last throes of dying, if we do not forge a new path onwards toward inclusion and cooperation for all. This dream of America will die to be replaced with just another third world country — only to go into the history books as another failed experiment.

Again, let us not be fooled by the GOP Trojan Horse “abortion” to distract us and divide us while they laugh gleefully behind our backs as to how they have beat us once again on a myth and an illusion!

(FYI: The Conservative blog “Powerline” barred me from commenting on their blog because my ideas were opposite theirs. This is something a Liberal blog would never do — censor free speach because it did not agree with theirs!)


» Bart Stupak, Bishops, And The Family: So Much For Separation Of Church & State - Dissociated Press
Pingback posted November 12, 2009 @ 8:27 am

[...] bringing nothing but divisiveness to the party of which he is technically a member. You know when the GOP calls something a “win win” that what they really mean is “we win”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stupak later [...]


Abortion issue in health care bill leading to a “civil war’ amongst Democrats? | Daily Loaf
Pingback posted November 12, 2009 @ 8:29 am

[...] are loving how the the issue is blowing up the Democratic Party.  A spokesman for Minority Whip Eric Cantor says, “If defeating Stupak wouldn’t [have changed] the outcome on Saturday,then it is clearly [...]


dick c
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 9:45 am

I'm very tired of these “right to lifers” who are so goddam sure of when a human life begins, but don't seem to have the faintest about what it is.


madashellvoter
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 10:23 am

We need to be researching Stupack's involvement in C's Street, “The Family” he been living there with other religous finatics. Also living there is Congressmen Pitts (R) from PA, he also happens to be the co-sponsor. My feeling is that Pitts is the brain behind this whole amendment, he has had an agenda on Abortion for at least two decades.


Mahakal
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

Please stop referring to anti-abortion groups as “pro-life.” They are not pro-life. They are pro-coathanger, which is objectively pro-death for women.

Also, “life” does not begin at conception according to Judaism, but at breath, or Ruach. Jesus did not amend this. Rather, he said, when a woman was accused of sexual immorality, to let who is without sin cast the first stone.

The “pro-life” movement is anti-Christian.


loufilliger1
Comment posted November 12, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

There is an important difference of opinion between the two factions of the Democratic Party. Both sides ought to have their right to choose preserved. By the same token, they should realize that this is a sign, a reminder to respect the rights of the public at large and not take away their options for private health care. If you support the right for a woman to choose whether or not to have an abortion, how can you blithely, carelessly vote away people's right to the health insurance option they choose? Also, if you vote to raise taxes, that's limiting my choices of how to spend my hard-earned money. It's a b__tch when someone takes away your rights, isn't it? Remember that next time you call to nationalize something or other.


Yeah, Republicans Are Clearly Against Abortion Above All Else… « Vox Nova
Pingback posted November 12, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

[...] Yeah, Republicans Are Clearly Against Abortion Above All Else… From Brad Dayspring, spokesman for Minority Whip Eric Cantor: [...]


tropicgirl
Comment posted November 13, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

I am not so sure Nancy Pelosi would keep abortion rights. This whole thing is a political situation now and her voting against abortion rights will hurt her. The question is, will someone like her, who has no problem blocking investigations into torture, ethics on her own members, and blocking single payer from the outset, there, like Obama, sink herself…

But this battle illustrates, in a genius sort of way, WHY it is SO TOTALLY WRONG TO BAIL OUT PRIVATE INSURANCE COMPANIES IN THE FIRST PLACE, mandating millions of new patiens to pay for policies and deductibles they cannot afford. Taxpayer money is sacred. It should NEVER be used in this manner.

I'm not against using taxpayer money to pay for people's HEALTH CARE, but NEVER to BUY INSURANCE POLICIES. The people's money should be used in a very strict, supervised and FAIR manner, that does not ALLOW ABUSE.

The abortion issue illustrates why this is wrong. Its another bailout without reform. Its corporate welfare and a mix of public and private where the public pays and the private benefits.

Abortion, managed/witheld care and euthanasia fears are as solid in the Christian camp as the rock of Gibraltar. Trust me. Have been since the anti-ecumenical movement in the 80's, especially in the Catholic Church. You might as well crucify Jesus again.

But interestingly, it makes the point that this mixing of private corporations and tax dollars is fundamentally wrong, in this case, and can never be used fairly or beneficially to the public, if given to private corporations. It just never will.


Hawaiianstyle
Comment posted November 17, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

I wonder if any Repubs saw the results of the Louisiana Free Clinic? Eighty percent of the 1000 patients had SERIOUS health problems. Three were immediately hospitalized.

Do Repubs seriously think that a debate about abortion that imperils health care for folks like this is an “opportunity”?

Can we survive a Congress where such self-interest is so acceptable that it is touted in public? Where is the outcry about the poor and extremely needy right here in America? Why are opponents to health care not embarrassed by the results of the free clinic?


cricket991
Comment posted November 23, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

GOP Sees ‘Win-Win’ as HealthcARE defeated and MILLIONS REMAIN WITHOUT COVERAGE


cricket991
Comment posted November 23, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/26/us-…

Wendell Potter can remember exactly when he took the first steps on his journey to becoming a whistleblower and turning against one of the most powerful industries in America.

It was July 2007 and Potter, a senior executive at giant US healthcare firm Cigna, was visiting relatives in the poverty-ridden mountain districts of northeast Tennessee. He saw an advert in a local paper for a touring free medical clinic at a fairground just across the state border in Wise County, Virginia.

Potter, who had worked at Cigna for 15 years, decided to check it out. What he saw appalled him. Hundreds of desperate people, most without any medical insurance, descended on the clinic from out of the hills. People queued in long lines to have the most basic medical procedures carried out free of charge. Some had driven more than 200 miles from Georgia. Many were treated in the open air. Potter took pictures of patients lying on trolleys on rain-soaked pavements.


cricket991
Comment posted November 23, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

GOP Sees ‘Win-Win’ as HealthcARE defeated and MILLIONS REMAIN WITHOUT COVERAGE


cricket991
Comment posted November 23, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/26/us-…

Wendell Potter can remember exactly when he took the first steps on his journey to becoming a whistleblower and turning against one of the most powerful industries in America.

It was July 2007 and Potter, a senior executive at giant US healthcare firm Cigna, was visiting relatives in the poverty-ridden mountain districts of northeast Tennessee. He saw an advert in a local paper for a touring free medical clinic at a fairground just across the state border in Wise County, Virginia.

Potter, who had worked at Cigna for 15 years, decided to check it out. What he saw appalled him. Hundreds of desperate people, most without any medical insurance, descended on the clinic from out of the hills. People queued in long lines to have the most basic medical procedures carried out free of charge. Some had driven more than 200 miles from Georgia. Many were treated in the open air. Potter took pictures of patients lying on trolleys on rain-soaked pavements.


The "Sister Souljah" Moment As A Core Political Value : Lawyers, Guns & Money
Pingback posted March 25, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

[...] the other way. In this case, it was anti-choicers, not pro-choicers, who decided to introduce a cultural wedge issue that made the bill much harder to pass. Supporters of reproductive freedom, who for the most part suffer from the bargaining disadvantage [...]


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