The end of the beginning

"The end of the beginning" Continued...

Issue: "O Jerusalem," April 10, 2010

Americans on both sides of the healthcare debate will not forget this vote. It is a defining moment for the president, the Congress, and the country. Indeed, the political landscape has changed: This is a tipping-point moment that triggers a major redistribution of wealth. Millions (some with salaries as high as $88,000) will soon be brought onto government-run and taxpayer-financed insurance programs.

Thomas Jefferson believed that "great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities." The Social Security Act of 1935 passed with support from 76 percent of the minority Senate Republicans and 84 percent of House Republicans. Congress created Medicare in 1965 with support from 43 percent of Senate Republicans and 51 percent of House Republicans. But, in healthcare, zero congressional Republicans voted for the final bill.

"Some say we're making history," explains Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. "I say we're breaking history."

Life changer

Bart Stupak's turn may signal the end of the pro-life Democrat

By Edward Lee Pitts

Immediately after the House passed its healthcare overhaul, Republicans tried to add stricter language preventing the federal funding of abortion. But one Democrat stood up and took the opposition's lead: "This motion is really to politicize life, not prioritize life," the Democrat said to an eventual House floor standing ovation from his party.

Who was it that rallied 232 Democrats to vote down the pro-life protections? Rep. Bart Stupak, the very author of the amendment that had passed the House last November.

This time around Stupak opposed his own measure because earlier in the day he announced that President Barack Obama would sign an executive order to affirm existing law that bars the federal funding of abortions. Six pro-life Democrats joined Stupak in now supporting the overhaul, providing the measure with last-minute momentum and essentially giving the bill its seven-vote victory margin. (Only one pro-life Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, stood his ground and opposed the overhaul because of abortion.)

But groups on both sides of the debate agreed the order, which the federal courts would likely strike down, was a meaningless charade that provided political cover for Stupak's group. Planned Parenthood announced it was "extremely pleased," calling the order a "symbolic gesture."

A majority of pro-life groups argue that the law fails to prohibit federal funds from going to plans that cover elective abortions, and they worry that its $2.5 billion funding increase for community health centers does not prohibit those centers from using these dollars to offer elective abortions.

Stupak tried to assert on the House floor that it would ensure no public funding of abortion. But the order itself clearly states it will not "impair" authority granted by law and that it does not "create" any "enforceable law."

Reprisals for Stupak, a one-time hero of the pro-life movement, came fast: The night of the vote, the Susan B. Anthony List revoked its "Defender of Life" award to Stupak.

Abortion's key role in the healthcare debate has placed the issue back on the center stage of election season. Both sides want to make pro-life Democrats extinct: Pro-abortion groups hope to shore up their hold on the Democratic party (and avoid pro-life victories like the first vote on Stupak's abortion restrictions in November) while pro-lifers don't want to risk another ninth-inning cave by pro-life Democrats. That could be bad news for Democrats in a nation where the majority now calls itself pro-life.

Stupak himself now faces a primary challenge from a pro-abortion Democrat and, should he survive that, a pro-life Republican.

On March 24 Obama quietly signed Stupak's executive order. No reporters or cameramen were invited.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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