It’s hard to figure what makes Bart Stupak tick, but my guess is: Ego. Power. Self- absorption. Conceit. For sure, it has nothing to do with concern for his fellow man, and less to do with concern for women. Representative Stupak is perfectly willing to sink a bill that would offer comfort, care and in many cases life itself to millions in his petty, petulant determination to control what we do with our bodies.
Here’s a report by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor on the gentleman from Michigan:
Representative Bart Stupak often endures things others find unbearable. He crisscrosses a Congressional district so vast that some constituents live eight hours apart and so cold that the beer at his beloved football games sometimes freezes. Years ago, as a state trooper, he blew out his knee chasing a suspect, and he has since had so many operations that he now returns to work the same day, toting crutches and ice.
After his younger son committed suicide in 2000, using the congressman’s gun, Mr. Stupak soon resumed his predawn commute to Washington and his solid voting record with the National Rifle Association.
Now he is enduring more hatred than perhaps any other member of Congress, much of it from fellow Democrats. His name has become a slogan: “Stop Stupak!”
Scott Schloegel, his chief of staff, said wearily, “I can’t tell you how many New Yorkers have called me up and yelled at me about this Stupak guy.”
Well, sorry, I can’t work up any sympathy for Scott Schloegel or his boss. I did not elect them to ordain (along with their friends the U.S. Congress of Catholic Bishops) what American women may or may not do, by writing regressive language into a bill that could start this country toward sanity in health policy. I, along with millions of others, elected Barack Obama in part because we want our ridiculous, dysfunctional health system fixed.
With final negotiations on a health care overhaul beginning this week, complaints about “the evil Stupak amendment,” as the congressman dryly called it over dinner here recently, are likely to grow even louder. The amendment prevents women who receive federal insurance subsidies from buying abortion coverage — but critics assert it could cause women who buy their own insurance difficulty in obtaining coverage.
Mr. Stupak insists that the final bill include his terms, which he says merely reflect current law. If he prevails, he will have won an audacious, counterintuitive victory, forcing a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass a measure that will be hailed as an anti-abortion triumph. If party members do not accept his terms — and many vow they will not — Mr. Stupak is prepared to block passage of the health care overhaul.
“It’s not the end of the world if it goes down,” he said over dinner. He did not sound downbeat about the prospect of being blamed for blocking the long-sought goal of President Obama and a chain of presidents and legislators before him. “Then you get the message,” he continued. “Fix the abortion language and bring the bill back.”
Stupak’s father reportedly began study for the priesthood before changing his mind and getting married. The 10 Stupak siblings went to Catholic schools and he often cites the strength of his Catholicism. I honor him for his faith, and respect that faith. I just do not respect its assertion, via the Congress of Bishops, that one faith should dictate health policy for the nation. Admittedly, they have support from many conservatives, religious and otherwise; but “Fix the abortion language and bring the bill back?” What is he smoking with his frozen beer? It will take another 19 years to bring the bill back, if it comes back at all.
“The National Right to Life Committee and the bishops saw this as a way to vastly increase restrictions on choice,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, who is a chief deputy House whip and co-chairwoman, with Ms. Slaughter, of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.
Mr. Stupak was “not given very much negotiating room” by those organizations, Ms. DeGette said. Now “he’s gotten himself into a corner where he says it’s my amendment or it’s nothing.”
(Mr. Stupak says he urged the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to toughen its stance on the legislation; representatives from the conference and the National Right to Life Committee did not return calls.)
It may not be the end of the world for Congressman Stupak if the bill fails to pass. But it will be exactly that for uncounted thousands who are already suffering and dying for lack of health insurance and decent care.