The Man Who Made Pelosi Cry 'Uncle'

WILLIAM MCGURN

Not many folks in Washington have made Nancy Pelosi cry "uncle." Bart Stupak is one of the few.

For months, the Michigan Democrat has been threatening to bring down any health-care bill unless the House was given the opportunity to vote to extend the ban on taxpayer dollars for abortion to the new federal programs being created. On Saturday night, Mrs. Pelosi caved and Mr. Stupak prevailed.

The result is one of the few, real up-or-down votes we ever get on abortion -- and the only part of the health-care mess that shows any bipartisan consensus. In the end, 63 Democrats and Mr. Stupak joined all but one Republican on an amendment that does two things: prohibits federal funds for an abortion or for abortion coverage; allows (notwithstanding pro-choice propaganda) private insurers to offer abortion coverage so long as tax dollars are not involved.

"Mr. Stupak and I have not always agreed on things," Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, told me. "But I commend him for his effort here. His willingness to dig in the way he did was admirable."

What makes this interesting is that Mr. Stupak is no Blue Dog. Though some Blue Dogs joined him, the Stupak amendment in fact offers a striking contrast between the success of pro-life Democrats and the persistent failure of Blue Dogs. The pro-lifers came together, held their line, and got their way; the Blue Dogs never seem able to coalesce, and generally have been picked off individually.

Not that the press ever noticed. Up until almost literally the 11th hour, Mr. Stupak's push for a vote was treated as a sideshow. Nor was President Barack Obama ever called to answer for his flatly contradictory public statements on the place of abortion (the preferred term is "reproductive health care") in any health-care reform.

Mr. Stupak has just changed all that. On Sunday, the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, sent out an action alert asking supporters to tell Mr. Obama to "make good" on his "promise to put reproductive health care at the center of [his] health care reform plan." She should know: She was standing next to Candidate Obama in 2007 when he declared that "reproductive care is essential care, it is basic care, so it is at the center and at the heart of the plan that I propose."

Unfortunately for Ms. Richards, during his recent appearance before a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama promised something different: "no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions."

Notwithstanding the president's promise, page 110 of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bill authorized the secretary of Health and Human Services to determine when abortion is allowed under the government-run plan. All Mrs. Pelosi's preferred "compromises" left this undisturbed, using what in effect would be a money-laundering scheme to cloak the reality of a federal agency paying for abortion.

But Mr. Stupak stood firm, and Mrs. Pelosi realized something would have to give if she wanted to get a health-care bill passed. So she gave Mr. Stupak his vote -- and his victory.

Now, some believe Republicans should have voted "present" on the Stupak amendment, on the grounds that the worse they could make the bill, the harder for Speaker Pelosi to get the magic 218 votes. That's pretty short-sighted, for several reasons. For one thing, in September all but a few Republican House members signed a letter to Speaker Pelosi demanding such a vote. Had Republicans defeated a pro-life amendment they had asked for, they would have paid a dear price for their cynicism.

"We won because [the Democrats] need us," says Mr. Stupak. "If they are going to summarily dismiss us by taking the pen to that language, there will be hell to pay. "

For another, it's not even clear it would have worked. The Stupak alliance of Democrats was a broad one, from liberals like Minnesota's Jim Oberstar to conservatives like Mississippi's Gene Taylor. The danger of the cynical GOP strategy is that it could easily have backfired, freeing up Democrats to give Mrs. Pelosi her victory -- and putting Republicans in the awkward position of being unable to press for funding restrictions they had explicitly defeated.

As it is, Democrats now have to make some decisions that may anger their Planned Parenthood wing. The fight itself will be interesting, judging from a claim by Diana DeGette (D., Col.) in yesterday's Washington Post that 40 Democrats will vote against a final bill unless the Stupak amendment is stripped out. Of course, if it is stripped out, that will put even more pressure on those 64 Democrats who voted for the amendment.

"We won because [the Democrats] need us," says Mr. Stupak. "If they are going to summarily dismiss us by taking the pen to that language, there will be hell to pay. I don't say it as a threat, but if they double-cross us, there will be 40 people who won't vote with them the next time they need us -- and that could be the final version of this bill."




Rep. Bart Stupak on Hardball

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

William McGurn. "The Man Who Made Pelosi Cry 'Uncle'." The Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2009).

Reprinted with permission of the author and The Wall Street Journal © 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

THE AUTHOR

William McGurn was the chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush until February 8, 2008. Formerly an executive with Newscorp, McGurn also served as the chief editorial writer with The Wall Street Journal. From 1992 to 1998 McGurn served as the senior editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. Prior to this he was the Washington bureau chief of National Review. McGurn is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Boston University. He is the author, with Rebecca Blank, of Is the Market Moral?.

Copyright © 2009 Wall Street Journal




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