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Stupak is as Stupak does

Posted: November 23, 2009 2:20 p.m.
Updated: November 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.
I'm cheering for health care reform, even though I'm resigned to a debate heavily influenced by special interests. This chapter of American history would turn Jimmy Stewart's Mr. Smith into a die-hard cynic.

Here's how it works: The biggest congressional health care industry recipient is Sen. John McCain, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. His presidential campaign proposal would have given Americans a $5,000 tax credit to purchase health insurance, thereby transferring the nation's wealth from the Treasury to his insurance industry donors.

I'm not being partisan. This industry isn't picky about which party it supports, and President Barack Obama, who does not support a single-payer system like Canada's, received far more industry money than other presidential contenders. In fact, since the Democratic ascendancy, industry lobbyists have donated more to Dems than Republicans. Consider Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. She sits on the fence regarding the public option, yet her mostly poor constituents would benefit from it.

So, what's up? Here's a hint: Of all the legislators on the five Senate committees that have debated reform this year, she received the most in industry donations - more than $215,000. Compare that to this year's measly $50,000 that went to Montana
Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, Finance Committee Chair (and $4,000 to McCain).

Notwithstanding lobbyist shenanigans, I was encouraged the House was proceeding with a proposal to present to the Senate. In broad strokes, this proposal would create an insurance exchange whereby uninsured Americans could use their own money, supplemented if they have limited income, to obtain coverage.

This is far from a done deal. The House bill must be delivered to the Senate to be reconciled with a Senate proposal, then returned to the House. But it looked like progress was at hand and our representatives were taking the current sorry state of American health care seriously.

Then, along came Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak from the suffering state of Michigan. Stupak believed so much in the House bill, he told his constituents that with its passage: "Parents of children born with chronic illnesses will no longer live in fear of losing their employer-sponsored health insurance or running up against an annual or lifetime cap." Then he focused on making a name for himself at the expense those same families.

Knowing that abortion is a polarizing issue, the congressman decided to force his anti-choice perspective into the House's bill as an amendment. But he had a problem. A 1977 federal law known as the Hyde Amendment already prevents federal monies from being used for abortion services. What to do? How about stopping anyone who receives a federal subsidy from using their own money to buy a policy that covers abortion? Stupak's amendment forces the working poor who will rely on the exchange to buy a second policy if they want abortion coverage.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops argues that to do otherwise would be tantamount to an accounting shell game, since federal monies would be going to people who would then use that money to buy insurance.

I guess the holier-than-thou bishops who, by the way, benefit from federal dollars by segregating their own non-religious activities, think it's okay to dictate how my taxes are apportioned, while poor suckers like me have to grin and bear it when we pay for things like the invasion of Iraq, secret prisons and torture.

Will Stupak's amendment, if it ends up in the final legislation, limit the number of abortions? Not likely. I attended college prior to the 1977 passage of Roe v. Wade. One girl in my dorm went to Mexico for an abortion and another flew to Japan. Those girls had means and connections. The poor took their chances with back-alley hacks.

No, Stupak has only succeeded in creating a frenzy among true believers and intransigent rage in the opposition. He's thrown a monkey-wrench into the political arena, possibly delayed needed insurance reform and endangered the lives of those who desperately need it.

If, like me, you know someone who has been denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, or you have come across a young adult who didn't think he or she would need to spend their frugal savings on health insurance until it was too late, please let our representatives know they must not get sidetracked by narrow agendas or lucrative donations.

The Congressional Budget Office says both the House and Senate versions of health care reform reduce the deficit. Health reform will be a win for the Treasury and win for the American people.

Diana Shaw is an SCV resident, entertainment attorney, member of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee and a founding member of the Democratic Alliance for Action. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesdays and rotates among several Democratic writers.


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