By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak is leading the charge of antiabortion Democrats who are threatening to vote against healthcare reform unless more restrictions on abortion funding and coverage are added. After months of trying to take his concerns to party leaders, he recently got a call from President Obama—and a meeting this week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
I talked to Stupak yesterday about those conversations, his specific grievances with the House healthcare bill, and why he's "not very confident" he'll be able to support the final healthcare package. Excerpts:
You had been asking for a meeting with President Obama for months to discuss concerns about abortion coverage in healthcare reform and finally got to chance to speak with him recently. What prompted his call to you?
What I did this time and hadn't done in the past is I put [my request] in writing so there would be no misunderstanding. And they called me and said I don't know if we can get you in a meeting right away but if you want we can get a phone call in a quick manner. And I said fine. How'd it go?
Good. [Obama] urged me to try to work it out . . . basically said we don't need this fight, we're trying to do healthcare and just try to work it out if we can. How does the president feel about your stance that no government subsidized health insurance plan should include abortion coverage?
I brought up the fact that when he spoke to the nation on September 9 he said, "Let me verify one more rumor, that there will be no public funding for abortion." And so I asked him to clarify that because it's sort of the opposite of H.R. 3200 [the House healthcare bill]. And he indicated to me that yes, he understands that and when he talked about that line [in his speech] he said "my plan." But the president has not put forth a plan, so it wasn't really clear. And so my question was, was he just reading H.R. 3200 and was he not briefed on the Capps Amendment [on abortion coverage], and he said, "No, no, I know the Capps Amendment."
Does the president believe that the Capps Amendment prohibits federally-funded abortions, as pro-choice advocates claim, or that that prohibition is a disingenuous accounting trick, as antiabortion advocates claim?
The president did not get into the argument whether the Capps Amendment covers abortions or not. He never went there. He just said, "We have enough other arguments going on with the bill, let's work this one out." So what do you see as the path to resolving the abortion debate—to "working this out"— in the Democratic Caucus?
Unfortunately, I don't see a clear resolution right now. Maybe some language can be drafted that I haven't seen yet that will accommodate everybody. But I'm going to go back to what the president said: no public funding for abortions. And that's the Hyde Amendment [the longstanding ban on federally funded abortions]. So let's have the Hyde Amendment. I'm prepared to go to the Rules Committee and offer the Hyde Amendment. I'm not too sure I'll get very far because no right-to-life amendments have been made to order all year. So how confident are you that you'll be able to support the final healthcare reform package?
I've always said if you give me my amendment on Hyde and have a straight-up vote on the floor, then I'll move to the merits of the bill. And if I move the merits of the bill, I'm still concerned about the lack of competition within the insurance industry with the way 3200 is written. I'm also concerned that our quality amendments are going to be stripped by the time it gets to the floor, and if that's the case then it's very hard for me to vote for this legislation, even if I had all the language I wanted [on abortion]. Doesn't sound like you're very confident, then.
I'm not very confident. I still think somewhere along this process, and hopefully before the first vote on the House floor, the president should weigh in. We need presidential leadership. The Democratic Caucus—as Will Rogers once said, "I don't belong to any organization, I'm a Democrat." And we are not organized. We're all over the place. We really need the strength of the presidency to say, "Here's what I need in this bill to sign it, and here's the language I would agree to." But what the president said on September 9, I can live with that and I can vote for that. But I'm not seeing that fully reflected in 3200. Close, but not quite there.
The pro-choice community argues that the Capps Amendment applies the spirit of the Hyde Amendment to the House healthcare bill by barring federally funded abortions in almost all instances.
The Capps Amendment says at least one plan [participating in a federal health insurance exchange] must provide abortion coverage and must have one that doesn't have it. For the first time ever, federal policy is saying that abortion is a covered service. That's completely opposite of Hyde. Second, if I'm in the public plan, I have to give one dollar per month [to abortion coverage]. I'm a man, and I can't get an abortion, but I have to pay for it. Those are two major differences from Hyde. What about the Capps Amendment language stipulating that federal funds must be segregated from individual premiums in funding abortion coverage?
All that is just a mirage. On the D.C. appropriations bill, we used to have the Dornan language, which said you cannot use federal dollars to pay for [abortions] in D.C. We gave them operating funds, and what we said in Dornan is you had to segregate it. [The Democratic leadership] will not give us that language anymore. They denied us that. So if they were really committed to this firewall, as the pro-choice people say, then why not put in the Dornan language we've had for the last 15 or 16 years? They have denied us every right-to-life amendment. There's just a lack of trust there. We don't believe it. How does the saying go? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I won't get fooled twice.
The pro-choice community says that, as many women move from employer-based plans to those participating in the health insurance exchange, which you'd bar from offering abortion coverage, they'll lose a benefit that most currently have.
They don't lose the right, they've just lost the right to use my tax dollars to pay for abortion. They still have that right, and there are millions of women who are on Medicaid, Medicare, the federal employees' health benefit package—which does not provide abortion services—who go and get an abortion. They have to use their own money, that's all. That's current law. Were you reassured at all about your abortion-in-healthcare concerns after your meeting this week with Speaker Pelosi?
No. The speaker did not promise me either way whether I'd get an amendment. She urged me to go back and work with [Energy and Commerce Committee] Chairman [Henry] Waxman and try to work this out, so we'll go back and forth.