American Papist has a good reaction to yesterday’s news that the healthcare bill passed. The bill passed 219-212, which was intentional: the Democrats wanted to make sure that every Democrat could claim that their vote wasn’t the one responsible for this albatross. The fact that they were able to engineer the precise vote like that suggests that they had a bit of wiggle-room: that other Democrats who were nays would have been ayes if (a) the leadership really needed it, and (b) the price were right. So even a number of the no votes on the Democratic side were simply given the ability to vote against as a luxury once 219 Democrats had fallen on their swords — if you watch the voting live, you can get a sense of who the backup vote are by seeing which people vote no only after the bill is passed or so obviously near passing that there’s no suspense.
The biggest news of the day, of course, was that Stupak and a few of his band of pro-life Democrats were willing to vote yes in exchange for an Executive Order from Obama on the issue. The USSCB had already considered, and rejected, the idea of an Executive Order for pretty simple legal reasons: an Executive Order can’t contradict the bill, so it’s vulnerable to court challenge; it’s only as good as the president’s willingness to enforce it (and we’ve got the most pro-abortion president in history in charge of this EO); it can be rescinded with a stroke of the president’s pen; and it’s not binding on the next president. In other words, it’s a very weak protection. That said, some EO’s have been extremely effective in the past, for better or for worse: Japanese internment was done via Executive Order 9066, for example.
The Executive Order itself isn’t great, but it’s better than what I’d expected in one regard. It prevents federal funds from paying for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother. While I’m obviously not a fan of the exceptions, they’re the same exceptions which the Hyde Amendment currently has, so we’re already paying for those abortions (In fairness to Hyde, the exceptions weren’t originally in there, but in 1977, they were added, which prevented the Hyde Amendment from being repealed entirely). So that section covers exactly what I’d imagined it would. What I was pleased with is the conscience protection which it also contains: “Under the Act, longstanding Federal laws to protect conscience (such as the Church Amendment, 42 U.S.C. §300a-7, and the Weldon Amendment, Pub. L. No. 111-8, §508(d)(1) (2009)) remain intact and new protections prohibit discrimination against health care facilities and health care providers because of an unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”
The major problem with all of this, as alluded to above, is that it’s a giant “Trust Me” from the president. Just as the House is trusting that the Senate will pass the reconciliation, Stupak decided to cast his lot with the president to provide for the Hyde Amendment protections. This same president, it should be noted, is against the Hyde Amendment, if his staffers can be trusted. So the fox is sort of in charge of protecting the hen house here.
Yesterday, I got a chance to talk to Parker Griffith, the Democrat-turned-Republican from Alabama. I went to 11:30 Mass, and went out to a champagne brunch with some friends afterwards. The group was saturated with Southerners: two people from Texas, three from South Carolina, one from Louisiana. Being from Missouri, I was as north as it got. As a group, they’re full of Southern charm and hospitality (this will be important later). After brunch, we began to part ways, when Kelle, a perky Louisianan, asked if we wanted to do a rosary for the healthcare bill. We all agreed, and began walking towards St. Mary’s, when she then asks, “Why are we not at the Capitol?” Kevin and Stephanie, the Texans, offered to drive, and just like that, we found ourselves praying rosaries on our way to the Capitol.
Once there, it was a total fiasco. The first group on the way in to the Capitol grounds was for the bill, but as we approached the Capitol building, it switched to a large Tea Party demonstration. The differences between the groups were striking. Almost all of the pro-bill forces had professionally made signs which read “Catholics for healthcare reform” or “People of faith for healthcare reform.” None of the signs had anything of substance, just (a) I’m for this bill, and (b) I’m holding a sign which says I’m religious. Every sign was like that, with few exceptions. The anti-bill forces had no professionally made signs (at least that I saw), and as a result, were more colorful: a guy wearing boxers over his shorts, with a fake tail in the back, was carrying a sign which said, “Three Stooges,” with pictures of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama. Nearly all the signs were handwritten (some on the backs of unrelated signs, which was strange), and they were all unique. Only one anti-bill sign that I saw made a religious reference: “Under God, not Government.” I was immediately struck by the hypocricy: the pro-life forces are being accused of “pushing their religion” by refusing to pay for other people’s abortions, but the groups trying to force us to pay for other people’s abortions are using their religion as the only argument (at least in terms of signage). So it’s okay to say, “I’m Catholic, and therefore demand healthcare reform…” but not “… unless it results in murdering babies.” That last part is suddenly the inappropriate meddling of religion.
As we were leaving, Ryan (out of charity, not spite) held up his rosary and told some of the “Catholic” pro-bill supporters to read the bill and go to confession. While Ryan and one of the bill’s supporters finished talking, Rep. Parker Griffith came out, and gave a fascinating interview in which he demonstrated a very clear and thorough knowledge of the bill and its shortcomings, while making it clear he supports healthcare reform in principle — just not this bill, and for specific reasons he was able to give. At one point, he said, “as a doctor for forty years…” referring to his experience as an oncologist. Hearing this part, Kelly mistook him for a doctor giving testimony to Congress, and chased him down after the interview (literally running after him). We caught up with them, only to find Parker and Kelly engaged in a pretty substantive conversation (here’s where I’m convinced Southern charm played a major role, and since Parker’s got a house in New Orleans, they struck up a conversation immediately). We joined it, and even though it was clear that none of us were his constituents, Rep. Griffith talked with us at some length. At this point, Stupak had just announced his support for the bill, contingent upon the Executive Order, and was about to hold his press conference on the same, so naturally, we asked him about it. His response was, “Here’s the thing about eleventh-hour deals. If we’re negotating at the last minute, chances are whatever I’m promising you, I’m lying, and whatever you’re telling me, you’re lying.” He then gave a quick explanation why he thought that the Executive Order “wasn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” and that Stupak was smart enough to know this. Griffith’s colleagues seemed to agree, with one of them calling Stupak “Baby Killer.” I hope, for Stupak’s sake and our own, that Parker Griffith was wrong on both counts.
The conversation was generally fascinating – he talked about the Congressional Republican’s own complicity in a lot of the problems they now find themselves facing. They were for the nuclear option to get around the filibuster; now they face reconciliation (a pretty similar tactical manuever). They used deem-and-pass (the “Slaughter Solution” which the Democrats considered, before discarding in the face of a wall of public outrage), and were content to push through bills on party-line votes. In short, they used scorched-earth tactics when they had a bare majority to accomplish a short-term legislative agenda, and were surprised when they ended up the minority party with that being done to them. Hearing this from a former-Democratic, currently-Republican Congressman was heartening. My sincere hope is that when Republicans again take the majority, they govern with prudence and humility, instead of no-holds-barred aggression. Parker’s words gave me at least an ounce of hope for the future.