The health care reform bill would have passed the House without the votes of Rep. Bart Stupak’s pro-life Democrats because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “always carries a number of votes in her pocket,” Stupak told CNA in a Thursday phone interview.
The Michigan Democrat explained that by opting for the executive order, pro-life Democrats believe they ensured the legislation was “somewhat restrictive” towards abortion funding.
“Speakers never bring a bill to the floor, unless they have the votes. And they always have few in reserve,” Stupak revealed, describing this as a “common tactic” that was used in the defeat of the Dornan Amendment in a funding bill earlier this year.
“The Speaker always carries a number of votes in her pocket,” he said, meaning that some members who voted ‘no’ would have voted ‘yes’ if needed.
“I had a number of members who thanked us after because they could vote no.”
Rep. Stupak said he thought the votes available for Sunday’s vote totaled 222.
The Congressman explained the political tactic in response to a question about how he would respond to pro-life advocates who felt betrayed by his vote for the legislation.
He suggested these advocates were “not aware of the legislative process,” explaining that there were only 45 “life votes” in the Senate.
“Our group of pro-life Democrats stood up, we passed the Stupak Amendment with 240 votes, we pushed it all the way to the last moment.
“The Speaker could have passed this bill without us, and then you would have a bill laden with federal government funding for abortion, especially federally funded health centers.
“So now we have a bill that is somewhat restrictive, not as much as we like. And we have an executive order that will enforce the Hyde provisions in this new law,” he continued, characterizing the order as an “ironclad commitment.”
According to Stupak, an important colloquy he had with Rep. Waxman (D-Calif.) on the House floor established Congressional intent because when there is a court challenge, “and I’m sure there will be,” the courts will look to that for guidance.
He asked his critics to “look at the executive order, and read it.”
In Rep. Stupak’s view, securing President Obama’s executive order on abortion funding was “absolutely” a success for the pro-life cause and for the country.
In the course of the interview, CNA asked Rep. Stupak about remarks he reportedly made accusing the U.S. bishops and pro-life groups of hypocrisy.
The Daily Caller had reported that Rep. Stupak said he suspected groups such as the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and others were “just using the life issue to try to bring down health care reform.”
“Did they want to protect the sanctity of life or did they want to protect health care?” the Daily Caller reported Stupak as saying.
The Congressman initially denied this was an accurate account, but then commented further.
He told CNA he questioned whether some of the pro-life groups “were more interested in protecting the sanctity of life or defeating health care.”
Asked if he included the U.S. bishops in that, he replied “not necessarily.”
Since the time he made remarks questioning pro-life groups’ motives, he said, the U.S. bishops’ most recent statement has led him to believe they were still interested in passing health care.
“National Right to Life, I don’t think they ever were. I think they were more interested in defeating the health care bill, no matter what it costs.
“But at the time I made that statement, yeah, the way I explained it, that’s true.”
He stated that both NRLC and the bishops wanted statutory language to “protect the sanctity of life in the bill.”
“So do I, that was the Stupak Amendment, we passed that in the House,” the lawmaker told CNA.
“The reality is, in Senate you need 60 votes, we have 45 pro-life votes, as I’ve told both the Catholic bishops and Right to Life.
“Help me find 15 more votes, and we’ll pass your statutory language. Until that time, we cannot. Therefore we have to do all we can to protect the sanctity of life, and that is why the executive order, the colloquy, and the language of the bill will, to my mind, protect the sanctity of life.”
He quoted the executive order, which says it “maintains current Hyde Amendment restrictions governing abortion policy and extends those restrictions to the newly created health insurance exchanges.”
CNA asked whether he thought the bishops’ actions in the health care debate helped secure the executive order. “No, because they wouldn’t support it,” Stupak replied. The fate of the Stupak Amendment was “decided in December,” he added.
For the bishops or any others to seek statutory language and not agree to an executive order, is “pie in the sky,” in Rep. Stupak’s opinion.
“Find me 15 more votes. I’ll be happy to run the language, I’ll personally walk it over to the Senate. But you need 15 more votes, realistically. There comes a point in time you’ve got to be honest and say ‘here’s what we can and can’t do.”
The Democratic Congressman also charged that 41 GOP Senators’ strict commitment to the Byrd Rule prevented the Stupak Amendment from being reconsidered. That rule bars the use of the legislative reconciliation process to enact policy changes.
“On March 4 Senate Republicans circulated a letter committed to opposing any policy changes made through reconciliation,” Stupak told CNA.
“Any policy change. That would have been my amendment. I called a number of Republican Senators, and some of the leadership, and they said they would not allow even a joint resolution on Hyde language to come to the floor to a vote.”
Asked to respond to Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-Ariz.) charge that he fell for a “false solution” and was perhaps “deceived” by the administration, Stupak said “I totally disagree. I’m not going to respond to every personal charge.”
He then reiterated his Wednesday statement’s contrast between what he saw as an enthusiastic pro-life reaction to President Bush’s 2007 executive order on embryonic stem cell funding and the critical reaction to President Obama’s new order on abortion funding.
“I don’t think we missed anything,” he stated. “I think we got the job done.”
While there may be future opportunities to fix the legislation on abortion, he said, he did not indicate he saw flaws in the application of the abortion funding provisions.
The executive order has just gone into effect, he explained, saying he has not heard “any reports of any federal clinics or anyone performing abortions.”
If he is shown something indicating otherwise, he said, “let’s take a look at it.”