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Weekly Pulse: Obama Signs Health Reform Bill, Backlash Begins

9:07 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, President Obama signed health care reform into law. As Mike Lillis explains in the Washington Independent, the bill now proceeds to the Senate for reconciliation. The whole process could be complete by the end of the week. Republicans and their allies have already moved to challenge reform in court.

Legal challenges

The fight is far from over, however. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that Republicans have already filed papers to challenge health care reform in court. The Justice Department has pledged to vigorously defend health care reform, according to Zach Roth of TPM Muckraker.

The legal arguments against health care reform center around the constitutionality of an individual mandate, i.e., the requirement that everyone must carry health insurance. This argument is specious. The bill characterizes the mandatory payments as a tax, and imposes a fine for those who don’t pay their insurance tax. There is no question that Congress has the authority to levy taxes in support of the general welfare and providing health insurance to the people easily meets that legal criterion.

Dave Weigel of the Washington Independent reviews some of the other formidable legal barriers to challenging health care reform in court. But take heart, teabaggers! Birther-dentist-lawyer Orly Taitz is on the case.

Violent outbursts from reform opponents

Some anti-reform activists have resorted to intimidation. Five Democratic offices were vandalized in the days surrounding the House vote, as Justin Elliott reports for TPM Muckraker. Someone hurled a brick through the window of the Niagara office of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee.

Slaughter is notorious on the right for drawing up the controversial "deem and pass" strategy for moving the bill forward. Her plan was never put into action, but she has become a target anyway. Another Democratic office in Slaughter’s district was damaged by a brick bearing a quote from conservative icon Barry Goldwater: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

Elliott notes that a conservative blogger in Alabama is doing his best to incite similar attacks, though it’s not clear whether he instigated any of the original five:

…Blogger Mike Vanderboegh has been tracking the breaking of windows at Dem offices after issuing a call Friday: "To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW."

Reproductive rights take a hit

Anti-abortion extremist Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) failed to get his ultra-restrictive abortion language inserted into the health care bill, but the final bill does impede health insurance coverage for abortion.

For example, those who choose abortion coverage will have to write two checks: One for their regular premium and one for a dollar to go into a separate abortion coverage fund. Many analysts fear that the extra hassles will discourage private insurers from covering abortion at all. Pro-choice activists were in a weaker negotiating position because, unlike Stupak and his allies, they weren’t prepared to kill health reform if their demands weren’t met.

The greater good?

Now that health care reform is safely signed into law, the pro-choice movement is stepping back and asking itself some tough questions.

In The Nation, Katha Pollitt argues that the pro-choice movement deserves to be rewarded for sacrificing its own agenda for the greater good. She suggests that the Democrats could reward the reproductive rights movement by fully funding the Violence Against Women Act, addressing maternal mortality and other policy changes to advance women’s health and freedom.

Jos of Feministing counters that with their go along to get along attitude pro-choice groups have only demonstrated that they can be ignored with impunity: "You don’t get rewarded for demonstrating a lack of political power, you get further marginalized."

At RH Reality Check, Megan Carpentier argues that national pro-choice organization like NARAL and Planned Parenthood ceded their leverage too easily. While anti-choicers were beefing up their lobbying presence in Washington, major pro-choice groups were scaling back. Pro-choice groups compromised early and easily, perhaps because they were overly confident that their service to the Democratic cause would be rewarded in the end.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Pelosi Makes Her Move; GOP Rep. Calls for Coup

9:08 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

Weekly Pulse: Pelosi Makes Her Move; GOP Rep. Calls for Coup

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has laid out a strategy to pass health care reform in the next couple of days by allowing the House to vote on the details of the reconciliation package instead of the Senate bill itself. As usual, progressives are fretting that winning will make them look bad. On the other hand, conservatives are baying for blood and calling for revolution.

‘Deem and pass’

Nick Baumann of Mother Jones discusses the parliamentary tactic known as "deem and pass" (D&P), which House Democrats plan to use to avoid voting for the Senate bill before the Senate fixes the bill through reconciliation. The House doesn’t want to sign a blank check. If the health care bill passes the House first, there’s no guarantee that the Senate will make the fixes as promised.

Originally, the hope was that the Senate could do reconciliation first. The problem is that you can’t pass a bill to amend a bill that isn’t law yet. That would be like putting the cart before the horse. To clear that hurdle, the House will invoke a rule that deems that Senate bill to have passed if and when the House passes the reconciliation package. It’s sort of like backdating a check. Ryan Grim explains the process in more detail on Democracy Now!

D&P does not equal treason

Progressives like Kevin Drum worry that D&P will make the Democrats look bad. Meanwhile, the Tea Party crowd is calling for Nancy Pelosi to be tried for treason, as TPM reports. The bottom line is that D&P is no big deal. Republicans used the process 36 times in 2005 and 2006; Democrats used it 49 times in 2007 and 2008. D&P is constitutional. We know because it has already been upheld by the Supreme Court. Kevin Drum writes, "If you have a life, you don’t care about the subject of this post and have never heard of it."

Teabag revolution

There is no joy in Tea Party Land, as Dave Weigel reports in the Washington Independent. The tea baggers are frantically lobbying to stop the bill, but the reality is starting to sink in. Their leaders are shifting from trying to kill the bill to planning the tantrum they’re going to throw when it passes:

While many held out hope that plans to pass the Senate’s version of reform in the House would stall out, others pondered their next steps. Some, like Rep. Steve King (R-IA), took a dark view of what might come.

“Right now, they’re civil, because they think they have a chance of stopping this bill,” said King to reporters, waving his arm at a pack of “People’s Surge” activists forming a line to enter the Cannon House Office Building. “The reason we don’t have violence in this country like they do in dictatorships is because we have votes, and our leaders listen to their constituents. Now we’re in a situation where the leaders are defying the people!” Later, King would expand on those remarks and speculate on a possible anti-Washington revolt in which Tea Parties would “fill the streets” of the capital.

Sounds like King is calling for a revolution, doesn’t it? As it turns out, that’s exactly what he says he wants if health care reform passes. Eric Kleefeld of TPMDC reports that King is hoping for something akin to the uprising that overthrew the Communists in Prague in 1989. "Fill this city up, fill this city, jam this place full so that they can’t get in, they can’t get out and they will have to capitulate to the will of the American people," King said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

Women and health care reform

Health care reform seems poised to pass. Amid the heady excitement, there’s a sense of gloom in the reproductive rights community. Bart Stupak was defeated, but health care reform will probably end private insurance coverage for abortion.

In The American Prospect, Michelle Goldberg urges feminists to support reform anyway. She argues that the women suffer disproportionately under the status quo. If reform passes, it will insure 17 million previously uninsured women. Expanding health care coverage might help reverse rising maternal mortality rates in the United States.

A recent report by Amnesty International found that at least two women die in childbirth every day in the U.S., a much higher rate than most developed countries. The anti-choicers had the advantage because they were willing to kill health reform over abortion. The pro-choice faction did not allow itself the luxury of nihilism.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Obama to Push for Reconciliation

9:20 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Today, President Barack Obama will deliver a speech to Congress outlining his plan to move forward on health care reform. The president is expected to advocate the use of budget reconciliation.

Art Levine of Working In These Times warns that some centrist Democrats are already getting cold feet on reconciliation. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, went on TV to declare reconciliation impossible. These guys just don’t get it. It’s reconciliation or defeat. There is no other way. Without reconciliation, the bill dies. Without a bill, the Democrats get massacred in the mid-term elections.

Health care reform to date

Quick recap: The House and the Senate have both passed health care reform bills. The original plan was to merge those two bills in a conference committee and send the final version back to both houses of Congress for a vote. However, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate when Republican Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley in the special election in Massachusetts.

Once they recovered from their shell shock, Democrats reluctantly converged around Plan B: Let the House re-pass the Senate version of the bill, thereby skipping the step where the Senate votes on the conference report. However, the Senate bill could not pass the House in its current form. So, the Senate needs to tweak the bill to make it acceptable to the House—either before or after the House re-passes the Senate bill. In order to make those changes without getting filibustered, the Senate Democrats will have to insert the modifications through budget reconciliation, where measures pass by a simple majority. Whew!

Of course, the Republicans trying to paint Democrats as tyrants for using reconciliation. Nevermind that 16 of the 22 reconciliation bills passed since reconciliation was invented in 1974 were passed by Republican majorities.

Whither the Public Option?

Reconciliation would appear to give the public health insurance option a new lease on life. The House bill has a public option, but the Senate bill doesn’t. The public option was traded away on the Senate side to forge the original filibuster-proof majority. As a procedural matter, the public option could easily be reinserted during reconciliation because it has such a direct impact on the federal budget, i.e., it would save the taxpayer a lot of money. The White House claims to support a public option. Yet Obama didn’t propose one in his health care plan last week.

Some observers take that as a sign that the White House doesn’t think the votes are there. (Cynics say it’s proof the White House never cared about the public option in the first place.) Even Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) told radio host Ed Schultz that he can’t support a public option for fear of killing the health care bill, according to Jason Hancock of the Iowa Independent. Harkin has been taking a lot of heat from progressives for refusing to join with other senators in signing a letter calling for a public option.

Abortion Storm Clouds

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had little to say about how she plans to overcome resistance within her own caucus on abortion and immigration issues within health reform, as Brian Beutler reports for TPMDC. Pelosi needs 216 votes to pass a bill. The original House bill only passed by 5 votes. Rabid anti-choice Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) claims to have assembled a coalition of like-minded Dems who consider the Senate’s slightly less restrictive rules for abortion funding "unacceptable." There is no reliable public vote count on how many of these representatives, if any, would vote to kill health care over abortion. If they do, it would be purely out of spite. Abortion language can’t be tweaked in reconciliation because it doesn’t directly affect the budget.

Stupak and the myth of federal funding for abortions

In The Nation, Jessica Arons takes a closer look at Stupak’s radical and misleading anti-choice rhetoric. The federal government is already legally barred from funding elective abortions, and nothing in the Senate bill would change that. Arons explains that the Senate bill would allow plans that participate in the federally-subsidized exchanges to offer abortion coverage provided that customers buy that coverage with their own money, not with subsidized federal dollars. If the government pays 30% of the cost of the policy and the consumer pays 60%, the money for abortion coverage comes out of the consumer’s end.

There’s a long tradition of segregating government money. Both Planned Parenthood and Catholic hospitals get federal funds. By law, Planned Parenthood can’t use that money to perform abortions, but it can use it to do pap smears and offer other health care. By the same token, a Catholic hospital can take federal money to provide medical care, but not to proselytize to patients. Arons ably satirizes Stupak’s extreme position:

If everyone thought like Bart Stupak, a woman seeking an abortion:

(1) would not be able to take a public bus or commuter train to an abortion clinic, even if she paid her own fare;

(2) would not be able to drive on public roads to a clinic, even if she drove her own car and paid for her own gas;

(3) would not be able to walk on public sidewalks to the clinic, even though she paid property taxes;

(4) would not be able to put her child in childcare while she was at the clinic if she received a tax credit that offset the cost of childcare;

(5) would not be able to take medicine at the clinic that was researched or developed by the government, even if she paid for the medicine herself.

Bunning backs down

In other health care news, AlterNet reports that yesterday Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) ended his one-man filibuster of the extension of a bill that would have prevented a 21% cut in Medicare reimbursement rates and extended unemployment benefits while the Senate finalizes the jobs bill. Bunning caved under pressure from his own party. Even Republicans realized that there was no political percentage in stiffing doctors and the unemployed.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.