As co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) is leading the fight in the House to strip the Stupak amendment, which would forbid millions of women from buying comprehensive insurance policies that cover abortion, from the final health care bill. And she takes issue with Stupak’s interpretation of the events leading up to the vote that completely changed the stakes of reform debate.
“Basically Congressman Stupak moved the goalposts, and I think it really took [House] Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] and other people by surprise,” DeGette told me in an exclusive interview.
She says, after his abortion amendments went down in the House Energy and Commerce Committee (a panel on which she also sits), he demanded he get another crack at it when the Rules Committee set the contours of the floor debate.
“After we defeated him in committee,” she said, “he said that he wanted to have an amendment in order on the floor… and that if he didn’t have his amendment made in order then he had 40 people to vote against the rule.”‘The rule’ is a matter of arcane House procedure, but basically it defines the floor debate. Importantly, though, an amendment that’s tacked on to the rule becomes incorporated in the underlying bill (in this case, the House health care bill), and Stupak wanted to add an abortion amendment into the bill on the evening before it passed in historic fashion. Apparently, though, his numbers were off. Pelosi had the votes to pass the rule without his changes.
“The Speaker said to Bart, we have the votes to pass the rule, so we’re going to pass the rule without your amendment,” DeGette told me.
“Then Bart said, if you don’t give me the amendment in the rule, we’re going to kill the bill.”
There his calculation appears to have been correct, and it sent leadership scrambling to find a solution: give his amendment an up-or-down vote on the floor. With a unified pro-life Republican caucus, and dozens of pro-life Dems, and the Conference of Catholic Bishops behind pushing hard, Stupak was all-but a shoo-in.
“This all happened Friday night, so then on Saturday morning we arrived, and most of the members hadn’t been involved in this, and Bart told them this was just the Hyde amendment, and many of them were confused,” DeGette said. “The Bishops were really cranking up the heat on a lot of our colleagues. The Speaker was really afraid that she would lose the whole bill about this.”
And the rest is history.
DeGette said that she supports the Capps amendment, which would create an accounting mechanism to segregate federal funds from private funds in the exchanges, but she’s willing to negotiate. Stupak feels differently.
“Congressman Stupak keeps saying this just puts Hyde into the health care bill,” DeGette says. “But in fact it goes much, much further than that. This would be the biggest restriciton on women’s right to choose in my career…. It shows a complete lack of understanding of what’s happening when somebody has an abortion. Either these pregnancies are unplanned, or they’re planned pregnancies that have gone horribly wrong.”
“We would be willing to talk about improving that language,” DeGette says. “Congressman Ellsworth talked about strengthening the language about separating funds.”
But, she says, forbidding some women from buying plans that cover abortions is beyond the pale.
“Let’s think about Medicaid, that’s federal funds and its a federal program,”
Seventeen states have given abortion coverage to women with their own state money, and we don’t stop that.
The other thing several people have pointed out–nobody’s ever said that anybody who gets tax assistance can’t have insurance that covers abortion. The logical extension of what bart is saying, is let’s say you’re a coroporation and you get tax assistance for your health care, then you can’t get abortions… I think that’s the longterm agenda.
Rep. Stupak has not agreed to an interview.