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Stupak-Pitts: A ‘Poison Pill’ Devised To Abort Health Care Reform

by on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 8:55 pm EDT in Healthcare, Politics

Blue Dog Democrat Ben Nelson (Senator-Nebraska)How did we ever get to this point — to the Stupak-Pitts amendment — which now threatens to smother meaningful health care reform in its crib?  Let’s start with the underlying agendas of the opposition, and how their failed tactics brought us to the divisive issue at hand.

The GOP agenda, in a nutshell, has long been to diminish Barack Obama as President, at any cost.  By defeating his health care reform bill — one of the cornerstones of his ‘change’ campaign — Republicans would effectively undermine the symbolic significance of his Presidency.  Republican Senator Jim DeMint (SC) admitted this much on a conference call with “tea party” participants, as early as July:

If we’re able to stop Obama on [health care reform] it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.

The Republicans will attempt to defeat any Health Care Reform bill, by any means possible, and at any cost.  They are convinced this will resurrect their party from the ashes.  They’ve latched onto hot button sound bytes like “government takeover,” “socialism,” etc. to confuse their ‘low information’ constituents, and to conjure up fears that their entire way of life is being threatened.  Beyond the far-right-fringe-elements in their party, this strategy has failed.

The Blue Dogs, a group of so-called ‘conservative’ Democrats, has a somewhat different motivation for killing meaningful health care reform.  This group represents the ‘status-quo’ face of the Democratic Party.  They consistently put corporate lobbyist interests above the interests of their constituents, thereby ensuring the nation’s problems never get solved.  And as one might expect, they are well compensated for helping to obstruct meaningful change.  The Washington Post reported as far back as July 31 of this year:

A look at career contribution patterns also shows that typical Blue Dogs receive significantly more money — about 25 percent — from the health-care and insurance sectors than other Democrats, putting them closer to Republicans in attracting industry support.

Most of the major corporations and trade groups in those sectors are regular contributors to the Blue Dog PAC. They include drugmakers such as Pfizer and Novartis; insurers such as WellPoint and Northwestern Mutual Life; and industry organizations such as America’s Health Insurance Plans. The American Medical Association also has been one of the top contributors to individual Blue Dog members over the past 20 years.

The Blue Dogs’ agenda, in a nutshell, has been to ensure that no health care reform legislation adversely affects the profits of the industries that line their pockets.  Competition — nonexistent in today’s health insurance marketplace — would pose a threat to those runaway profits, and so Blue Dogs naturally oppose a public option.

They boast how they too want universal health care, but in reality it’s the Health Insurance Industry-approved version they advocate for — the one where all Americans MUST purchase private health insurance (or face stiff fines) even if they can’t afford it.  Under this version, tax payers would subsidize the private health insurance industry’s extortionate rates, but only for citizens whose income levels qualify.  Where’s the ‘conservatism’ in non-negotiable corporate subsidies?!

In August, Business Week released a story called “The Health Insurance Industry Has Already Won,” revealing the industry’s strategy all along had been “to target the Blue Dog Coalition, which includes Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR)” (as quoted by Think Progress):

Impressing fiscally conservative Democrats like Matheson, a leader of the House of Representatives’ Blue Dog Coalition, is at the heart of UnitedHealth’s strategy. It boils down to ensuring that whatever overhaul Congress passes this year will help rather than hurt huge insurance companies. […]

Matheson, whose Blue Dogs command 52 votes in the House, can’t offer enough praise for UnitedHealth, the largest company of its kind. “The tried and true message of their advocacy,” he says, “is making sure the information they provide is accurate and considered.” […]

Fifteen years after the insurance industry helped kill then-President Bill Clinton’s health-reform initiative, Ross is frustrating the Obama White House by opposing proposals for a government-run insurance concern that would compete with private-sector companies.

The monkey wrench:


After months of misinformation and fear mongering, the Republicans and Blue Dogs failed to scare the American people into their corner:

An Oct. 16-18 CNN/Opinion Research Poll shows that 61 percent of Americans favor a public health insurance option administered by the federal government to compete with private health insurance companies, while only 38% oppose one.

An Oct. 20 Washington Post/ABC News Poll shows that “57 percent of all Americans now favor a public insurance option, while 40 percent oppose it. Support has risen since mid-August, when a bare majority, 52 percent, said they favored it. (In a June Post-ABC poll, support was 62 percent.)”

And even more alarming for the Blue Dogs were polls indicating they were entirely out of step with their constituencies back home. Take, for instance, the state of Arkansas where Rush Limbaugh has a higher approval rating than Barack Obama:

  • Lead Blue Dog, Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR) — who had received $921,670 from the Health Care Industry — discovered that in his Arkansas district, the breakdown of recent polls show:  Of ALL voters: 47% favor the public option, 44% oppose one.  Of Independent voters: 47% favor the public option, 43% oppose one.  Of Democratic voters: 74% favor the public option, 19% oppose one.
  • Blue Dog, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) — who had received $325,350 from the Health Care Industry, as of June 30 — found that she was completely undermining the will of her Arkansas constituents.  The breakdown of recent polls showed:  Of ALL voters: 55% favor the public option, 38% oppose one.  Of Independent voters: 56% favor the public option, 34% oppose one.  Of Democratic voters: 81% favor the public option, 14% oppose one.

To make matters worse, the left has taken them into their scopes.  Various progressive groups (MoveOn, PCCC, amongst others) began targeting these politicians with TV ads back in their home districts, documenting the vast sums of money they’d taken from the Health Insurance Industry.  OUCH!

One group, Mobilization For Health Care for All, on different occasions, peacefully protested Joe Lieberman’s Congressional office — refusing to leave until he signed a pledge to stop taking health insurance industry money.  Lieberman hid from them, and had his staff call the police to physically remove them.  These tactics from the left generated what Blue Dogs fear most — exposure of their corruption.  They’d never anticipated blow-back from members of their own party.

So, what’s a Blue Dog to do?  Well, they dipped into the playbook of Karl Rove.  Rove successfully galvanized his conservative base for W’s 2004 re-election campaign, by putting a right-wing-hot-button issue — gay marriage — on the ballots of every key battleground state.  If the strategy could work for George W. Bush, after the Iraq quagmire, it could probably work for anyone.

They couldn’t sell Americans on the evils of the public option, so they changed the subject to something divisive: Roe Vs Wade.  The Blue Dogs and the Republicans joined together to concoct the Stupak-Pitts amendment, which effectively prohibits any private insurer who wants to be part of the new health care exchange program — (note: every private insurers wants access to the 50 million new customers on the health care exchange program) — from funding legal abortions.  So women whose policies now provide this coverage, would most likely see it disappear under the new legislation.

And Nancy Pelosi — desperate to get something through the House — unwittingly allowed this Trojan Horse amendment into the final House bill.  Without missing a beat, Catholic Bishops began to enter the fray lobbying our legislatures to keep the amendment, as have the religious right.  Women’s groups are up in arms about how this thing ever got attached to the health care bill.  The Stupak-Pitts amendment has successfully hijacked the entire debate on health care reform.  It is now all that is being discussed with regards to the pending health care legislation, and it is dividing the Democratic party in two.

And the Blue Dogs are smiling themselves silly.  Blue Dog Dem. Sen. Bill Nelson, whose vote is critical to getting a bill passed in the Senate,  stated today that he would not vote for the current House bill, because of the presence of the public option, but now he adds this to his talking points:

Unless the Senate bill includes a similar provision [as the Stupak-Pitts Amendment] he’ll vote against it.  “Federal taxpayer money ought not to be used to fund abortions,” Nelson said. “So whether it is subsidies on premiums or whether it is tax credits or whatever it is…it should not be used to fund abortions.”

He’s conflating the pro-life issue with health care reform — so as to curry favor with certain religious constituents, who otherwise might punish him at the ballot box for his public option stance.  Abortion is the single key issue to so many on the religious right.  The Blue Dogs have strategically injected the most divisive issue in American politics into the debate as a red-herring — to distract from what they intended to do all along:  kill meaningful health care reform.  Unfortunately, it appears to be working…