Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 10, 2009

THE FUTURE OF THE STUPAK AMENDMENT, CONT'D.... Opponents of abortion rights added the Stupak/Pitts amendment to the House health care reform bill very late in the process on Saturday, but its future is still in doubt.

The Senate legislation will, of course, merge two committee bills, but neither of them have the extreme language of the Stupak measure. As such, it's extremely unlikely that the Senate bill will start out with the provision when the bill goes to the floor. At that point, it would need to be approved by the amendment process, and that's unlikely to happen.

One of Congress's foremost champions of abortion rights said on Monday that the Senate did not have the votes to add a more restrictive anti-abortion amendment to health care reform legislation.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that 60 votes would be needed to strip the current health care bill of its abortion-related language and replace it with a version resembling that passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday. And, in an interview with the Huffington Post, the California Democrat predicted that pro-choice forces in the Senate would keep that from happening.

"If someone wants to offer this very radical amendment, which would really tear apart [a decades-long] compromise, then I think at that point they would need to have 60 votes to do it," Boxer said. "And I believe in our Senate we can hold it."

Sen. Max Baucus, who's not exactly a pro-champion, agreed. "It would have to be added," the Montana Democrat said. "I doubt it could pass."

So do I. Looking back at the Senate Finance Committee process -- the most conservative of the committees considering reform -- Orrin Hatch pushed a measure that was like the Stupak amendment. It failed.

President Obama, meanwhile, seems largely satisfied to let lawmakers work things out, but he nevertheless signaled last night that the Stupak amendment will have to be changed. He told ABC News' Jake Tapper that "there there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."

The point being, the Stupak measure would change the status quo.

It will, however, remain a very problematic area. Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, continues to look for an excuse to help Republicans block a vote on the reform bill. Yesterday, his spokesperson said Nelson was "pleased" with the Stupak amendment, and is "highly unlikely" to vote for reform unless it includes language to "clearly prohibit federal dollars from going to abortion."

Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Comments

One word: reconciliation.

Posted by: Chris on November 10, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Somebody doesn't understand much about how reconciliation actually works, what kind of legislation you can put through it, how easy it is to reverse, and how outsized and arbitrary the role of the parliamentarian is.

Posted by: Catherine of Aragon Ballroom on November 10, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

It's very simple, anti-choice Dems want to run ads saying, "I voted for a pro-life amendment". Now they can say that, they really don't care whether it stays in.

On the other hand, the insurance companies are loving this: the longer the coathanger amendment stays in, the longer the bill's passage is delayed - by progressives this time. The best thing is to get rid of the amendment before it gestates (pun intended).

Posted by: Ohioan on November 10, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

I can't wait for the Republican minority to complain about how unfair it is to subject this amendment to a filibuster, requiring 60 votes to add it to the bill.

Posted by: SP on November 10, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

I no longer trust any of these folks -- they'll all say anything -- including Boxer. We are at the mercy of the Clown Car, and can only call, write, pressure, squawk ...and then they'll do what they'll do.

The Stupak amendment stayed under the radar for months, and in a matter of hours it got plugged in. Anything can happen, and these days, it is most often bad.

Posted by: neill on November 10, 2009 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Anything can happen, and these days, it is most often bad.

And even when it's not, you'll whinge about it.

Posted by: enough already on November 10, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

And even when it's not, you'll whinge about it.

Because it might be bad again later! And it's important to get your complaints in as early and as loudly as possible. Otherwise you don't get the, like, glory, or something.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 10, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

My fear is that the ammendment was added in part to shift the discussion to abortion and way from health care reform. Reforming the disastrous health care system in this country is popular with the public. If it can be painted with the abortion brush then those opposing reform can chip away at popular support. Everyday spent discussing abortion is another step towards polarizing the issue of health care.

Posted by: SaintZak on November 10, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Sen. Max Baucus, who's not exactly a pro-champion, agreed.

Well, that's definitely true. I think he's more of an amateur-douchebag.

Posted by: doubtful on November 10, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

I'll save the Progbaggers time: everything sucks, it always will, it's hopeless to expect better, nothing ever gets better, you are all stupid for thinking otherwise, you got fooled, I warned you, give up, and listen to me, even though I have no plans whatsoever or workable suggestions.

Posted by: Three Headed Monkey on November 10, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

I remember when God whinged about money changers or finding an honest man .

Posted by: FRP on November 10, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

I'll save the Progbaggers time:

Kind of you -- but fruitless. They'll be compelled to say everything you just said, but at far greater length and with 100 repetitions today alone.

Posted by: shortstop on November 10, 2009 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

I remember when God whinged about money changers or finding an honest man .

Oh, but your version of god did it so much more succinctly and specifically, don't you think?

But thanks for the laugh at the image of perennial, unfocused Eeyores as godlike figures.

Posted by: shortstop on November 10, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

listen to me, even though I have no plans whatsoever or workable suggestions.

You mean "Demand stuff!" isn't a plan? Uh-oh.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 10, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Reconciliation is very tricky, no doubt, but I still don't see any realistic alternative. If instead the bill gets watered down enough to secure Lieberman's cloture vote (and those of the other problem children), that means health care "reform" legislation that enriches insurance companies with the mandate and does more harm than good to everyone else. In short, electoral suicide for democrats.

Posted by: American in Exile on November 10, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Wait! Is Steve happy that it will take 60 votes to add the anti-abortion measure to the bill?

Make a choice. You either like majority rule in the Senate, or you don't.

Posted by: tomj on November 10, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

I remember when God whinged about ... finding an honest man .

Wasn't that Diogenes?

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 10, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, but he borrowed the lantern from god's own storehouse.

Posted by: shortstop on November 10, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Stupak is a member of The Family and a resident of the C-Street house. That should have been the lead on Rachel Maddow's program last night, but she buried it. Still, a great segment, featuring Jeff Sharlet, author of "The Family -- the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power."

Turns out that Stupak was an enabler for and defender of fellow Family member and Repub Congressman Mark Foley, the guy who liked young male pages. Another typical Family member: Senator Ensign.

As you note, the amendment is actually "the Stupak/Pitts amendment." Who is Pitts? Here's the answer, from page 18 of Sharlet's book: "Senator Sam Brownback (R., Kansas), chair of a weekly, off-the record meeting of religious right groups called the Values Action Team (VAT), is an active member (of the Family), as is Representative Joe Pitts (R., Pennsylvania), an avuncular would-be theocrat who chairs the House version of the VAT."

Posted by: CMcC on November 10, 2009 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

The point being, the Stupak measure would change the status quo.

How?

Under the current status quo group market insurance companies who cover abortion procedures enjoy the massive tax subsidy of the tax code. Stupak wouldn't change that. Under the status quo, federal cash can't pay directly for abortions. Stupak wouldn't change that.

If Stupak is not adopted, for the first time since Hyde, federal cash (as opposed to mere tax code subsidies) will be used to pay for abortions, in that recipients of this cash (ie., premium subsidies) would be free to buy policies that cover the procedure.

Indeed, even if Stupak is adopted, it's arguably a move away from the spirit of Hyde, because insurance companies that receive premium tax payer-provided cash subsidies via policies they sell on the exchanges will still be able to cover and pay for abortions in the non-subsidized policies they sell into the group market.

Now, a lot of people understandably believe that moving away from the spirit of Hyde is A Good Thing.

But it's most definitely not the status quo. Or, to put in another way, the mandate/subsidies concept would allow cash (again, as opposed to mere tax code subsidies) to flow into the coffers of insurance companies that pay for abortions to be performed. Again, this weakens Hyde.

Adding Stupak just weakens Hyde less.

Posted by: Kew on November 10, 2009 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

@Kew

what an odd description of a condition of the Stupak amendment that requires women must plan to buy add-on abortion coverage for unplanned abortions...

sounds like the way a lawyer would describe it, you know, all legally sensible...

For a much clearer description of the amendment, I prefer Emily Douglas' over at The Nation on how it affects women:

http://www.thenation.com/blogs/notion/494751/the_stupak_stupor

Posted by: neill on November 10, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Douglas's piece is helpful, but what all the criticisms of the provision keep saying is things like this:

"While plans participating in the health insurance exchange are legally permitted to offer a version of the plan that does cover abortion--enrollment limited to those who pay for the entire plan without any subsidy--it's unlikely plans will go the extra mile to offer that coverage."

So many people have used words like "it's unlikely that" (to describe anything neutral or positive) and "it effectively does" (to describe anything negative). It seems like there's a lot still unsettled about what the actual language would or wouldn't do if it became law. That's a sign of badly constructed legislation, it seems to me, but also makes me pause before acting like I know exactly what it says, means, or does.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 10, 2009 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Also, this is a point I've read a lot now:

Besides, they [insurance riders for abortion] defy logic: "Women would have to plan for their unplanned pregnancy," Rubiner added. "It's illogical to think they would look for a plan that includes abortion."

I get the idea, but all insurance is about the possibility of unplanned health situations, isn't it? Why wouldn't women buy abortion riders if they were available, on the off chance that they might need to use it? I mean, sure, the specific situation itself could be unplanned, but the general risk is always out there.

I think it's a better point to say that abortion should be covered under the baseline insurance plans, as a matter of principle and comprehensiveness, than to come up with an explanation for why this workaround wouldn't work. It strikes me that the workaround _would_ work, but I'd personally much prefer a policy where no workarounds were required.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 10, 2009 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

It is interesting how MEN are making the decision on abortion in Congress.

Posted by: mljohnston on November 10, 2009 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why wouldn't women buy abortion riders if they were available, on the off chance that they might need to use it? I mean, sure, the specific situation itself could be unplanned, but the general risk is always out there.

Something else to think about: As was explained to me yesterday, the primary problem from most patients' financial perspective isn't a basic, first-trimester abortion, which costs a few hundred dollars and is done on an outpatient basis, but the fact that the language in the amendment rules out exclusions for the mother's health. That means that late-term abortions for wanted pregnancies that go very wrong would not be covered, either.

These typically involve hospital stays and thus are quite expensive. And while their incidence is far, far less frequent than that of standard, early-term abortions, having them in the mix would complicate the cost of an abortion rider. It would certainly also require a major education campaign to make women aware that this major medical procedure would not be covered unless they buy a supplementary policy.

Posted by: shortstop on November 10, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

@ shortstop: That makes sense and, yes, I hadn't considered that.

My wife told me yesterday, in response to my admitting having misunderstood that abortions weren't covered by insurance, that abortion coverage was about the only beneficial feature of the health insurance offered to college students.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 10, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

If another amendment could be added that prohibits married gay couples from obtaining medical insurance, they might just get another Republican or two to say they will consider it before voting against it anyway.

Posted by: qwerty on November 10, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

If another amendment could be added that prohibits married gay couples from obtaining medical insurance

@ qwerty: Or Muslims.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 10, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Abortion is a legal medical procedure. This is yet another example of dictating personal moral positions through legislation. I have a whole wish list for outlawing objectionable behavior: mandatory mental health status exams for congress (Bachman), mandatory retirement age, out sized egos and my personal thorn-in-the-side - perpetually tanned smarmy congressman.

It's really repugnant that many congressional leaders in this movement are deeply entrenched in a group (the Family) that overspends its energy covering up their members' lack of a moral compass. The Family promotes their Divine right to positions of power that rationalizes any and all bad behavior. I'm sure membership comes with a decoder ring, a superman cape and an extra large box of condoms. The behavior of some of the Family's high profile members reinforces an antiquated view of women as either whores or dim witted Madonnas in need of prtotection and shelter.

I do find some comfort in the knowledge that these overtanned, smarmy, bigoted men are facing extinction and are not embraced by younger generations.

Posted by: DTR on November 10, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

The Stupid ammendment must go! This is the biggest power play against a woman's choice in the history of the legislature and it was authored by a "Democrat". Mr. Stupid needs his legislative license revoked as do the rest of the "conservative democrat" cabal. This is not the 14th century folks, get a fucking clue!

Posted by: Aborted Trollop on November 10, 2009 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

...what an odd description of a condition of the Stupak amendment that requires women must plan to buy add-on abortion coverage for unplanned abortions...

No, Stupak does not require women to "buy add-on abortion coverage." Obviously women will be free to eschew doing this, and instead pay for abortion procedures out of pocket. And this, of course, is only relevant with respect to subsidized health insurance plans on the exchange. Non-subsidized plans in the group (ie., employer) market will continue to cover abortion procedures -- Stupak doesn't affect them.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure. This is yet another example of dictating personal moral positions through legislation...

Nonsense. Lots of things that are legal are not paid for by the government. Stupak does absolutely nothing to curtail abortion rights as such. It simply deals with the issue of funding abortion with public dollars. Again, under Stupak, private health insurance companies selling into the group market will continue to be able to sell abortion coverage, and will almost certainly continue to do so given the fact that a good percentage of their customers are affluent pro-choice women (and men). Stupak's primary victims will be, just as Hyde's, poorer women.

If you want to urge Democrats to oppose HCR because the language of the legislation doesn't increase access to abortion, have at it. Just don't try to claim you're doing so because you think Stupak will hinder access to abortion beyond the hindrances (ie., Hyde) of the current status quo, because Stupak does not do this. In essence Stupak basically clarifies the Hyde standard -- no direct government cash for abortions - by specifying that government cash subsidies for health insurance fall under Hyde.

Again, I understand the honest trepidation of the pro-choice community. I just hope they don't sink HCR over what they think Stupak is.

Posted by: Kew on November 10, 2009 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

"In essence Stupak basically clarifies the Hyde standard -- no direct government cash for abortions - by specifying that government cash subsidies for health insurance fall under Hyde."

Well, yes. Which is bad enough.

Posted by: Ed on November 10, 2009 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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