Stupak says Catholic bishops and pro-life groups hypocrites for condemning health-care vote

Jon Ward Contributor
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Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat whose support for President Obama’s health bill ensured it was passed into law Sunday, on Tuesday accused the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and pro-life groups of “hypocrisy” for condemning the executive order that sealed the deal.

“The [National] Right to Life and the bishops, in 2007 when George Bush signed the executive order on embryonic stem cell research, they all applauded the executive order,” Stupak said in an interview with The Daily Caller.

“The Democratic Congress passed [a bill] saying we’ll do embryonic stem cell research. Bush vetoed it in 2007. That same day he issued an executive order saying we will not do it, and all these groups applauded that he protected life,” Stupak said.

“So now President Obama’s going to sign an executive order protecting life and everyone’s condemning it. The hypocrisy is great,” he said.

Obama will sign the order at the White House on Wednesday, the White House announced Tuesday night. Stupak and 12 other pro-life Democrats who voted for the health bill are invited to the signing ceremony.

Stupak also said he suspected groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life, and others were actually “just using the life issue to try to bring down health-care reform.”

“I question, did they want to protect the sanctity of life, or did they want to defeat health care?” he said.

Stupak said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had enough votes to pass the health bill without him and the bloc of six or seven votes he brought with him, and that she released some vulnerable Democrats from voting for the bill after he agreed to support it.

The pro-life groups said their criticism had to do specifically with Obama’s executive order, which they say can do nothing to override provisions in the health bill.

“We haven’t said anything to suggest we think executive orders are never of value,” said Douglas Johnson, NRLC’s legislative director, in a phone interview.

Johnson said that Bush’s 2007 executive order, which followed his veto of legislation that would have expanded embryonic stem cell research, did not contravene existing law, but instead supported it, making it more “airtight.”

In addition, Bush’s 2001 executive order banning the use of most embryonic stem cell research simply undid authorization that had been put in place by federal regulations, not legislative action.

The problem with Obama’s executive order, Johnson said, it is “it basically just recites what’s in the Senate bill.”

The Senate bill funnels billions of dollars outside the regular “stream” of the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill – which is the only appropriation subject to strict anti-abortion restrictions under the Hyde Amendment – without specifying that these monies also come under Hyde-type limitations.

NRLC called the Senate bill that passed the House on Sunday “the most abortion-expansive piece of legislation ever to reach the floor of the House of Representatives,” in a letter to Stupak and other pro-life House Democrats last week, before the vote.

The Conference of Bishops, in a statement issued Tuesday, said that “the statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions.”

The statement added that “we do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.”

Johnson agreed, stating that while Obama’s executive order “does assert that community health centers can’t use the funds for abortion, we think that likely we be unenforceable if challenged.”

Stupak told The Daily Caller that the president’s order does nothing to change the law as it’s written.

“You can’t. It’s the next best thing,” he said.

It was that or nothing, he insisted, saying he knew for a fact that Pelosi released certain House Democrats from voting for the bill after he and his bloc of six or seven votes swung into the yes column.

“A number of them came up and thanked me … said, ‘Thanks for getting us off the hook,’” Stupak said. “I’ve been around here long enough to know that the speaker, Democrats or Republican, always carries a few votes in their pocket.”

“So I had a choice: to come up empty-handed and a bill passes with language that I totally disagree with, or I do the next best thing.”

However, Pelosi told a group of liberal columnists during an interview Tuesday that she did not let any Democrats off the hook from voting for the bill.

“I never give passes,” she said, according to David Corn, of Mother Jones magazine.

Stupak said he was exploring different solutions for more than a week, and that he abandoned the use of a concurrent resolution – which would have amended the Senate bill if it passed the House and Senate before the president signed the legislation – after he could not raise enough support for it among Senate Republicans.

The executive order idea was first raised by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Stupak said.

“He said, ‘Will you take a sense of the House resolution?’ I said, ‘No I don’t like those.’”

“What about executive order?” Emanuel said.

“I don’t know about that. Let me see if I can research it more,” Stupak said.

The first draft of an executive order that was “described” to him, Stupak said, “didn’t do the job.”

So on Saturday, as Obama spoke to the House Democrats at the Capitol, Stupak was in his office, drafting the language himself, he said.

On Sunday, after brunch with Rep. Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania Democrat, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson, Connecticut Democrat, and a few others, he and the other pro-life Democrats went to the Capitol to read the final rough draft of the order.

At 4 p.m., Stupak appeared with five other pro-life Democrats to announce he would support the health bill. The bill passed with three votes to spare, 219-to-212.

Doyle, Stupak said, “was the go between, and he kept encouraging us to talk it out.”

“It’s easier if you can keep the dialogue going, you can usually reach a consensus. And Doyle never gave up on it,” he said.