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Catholic Bishops Want to Change Senate Rules to Restrict Choice in Health Care

Bishop's Staff by mtsofan (flickr)

Bishop's Staff by mtsofan (flickr)

Here’s an amazing little article from Politico.

The Roman Catholic bishops signaled Thursday that if agreement is reached with House leaders on anti-abortion language, the church would work to get the votes needed to protect the provisions in the Senate — and thereby advance the shared goal with Democrats of health care reform.

What are they talking about? Well, the bishops want the Stupak amendment, which would effectively end coverage of abortion services in all insurance markets over time.

Never mind that the federal government already subsidizes abortions through the employer deduction for coverage that almost always includes reproductive choice. Never mind that the Nelson compromise in the Senate bill would probably do exactly what the Stupak amendment does, because the requirement of two separate payments – one for your health insurance and one for the portion that covers abortion services – “would be cumbersome for insurers and objectionable to customers.” Never mind that Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst for the Urban Institute, said that “There will not be abortion coverage in the exchanges. There just won’t be.” Never mind that the design of two separate payments singles out insurers who offer abortion coverage, opening them up to anti-choice protests. Never mind that under the bill, employer-based coverage is meant to move to the exchanges over time, as the eligibility for the exchanges expand, meaning that this restriction in the individual and small-group markets will eventually be brought to everyone. And never mind even that Ben Nelson, who authored the Senate version, “tried to figure out language that would be as close to Stupak as you could be without repeating the language,” according to his spokesman.

No, the Catholic bishops want to show a measure of dominance over the US government, and they want their way on this. And they have convinced Stupak to reject the “third bill” strategy, which House leaders offered to him.

What they want to do is to put the changes to the abortion language in a reconciliation sidecar bill, the second bill. This ensures that it will get passed as part of the package, since the President and Senate leaders have already promised that the sidecar will become part of the agreement.

But wait, you say. Reconciliation is intended only for budget-related items. How could the Stupak amendment language on abortion survive the inevitable point of order on the Byrd rule? Well, the bishops want to break that rule, and get 60 votes from the Senate to waive the point of order.

“We would strongly urge everyone, Democratic and Republican, to vote to waive the point of order,” Richard Doerflinger, an associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told POLITICO. “Whether it would be enough to get to 60 votes, I can’t predict. We would certainly try.”

“I think it’s something we should explore,” said Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), a longtime opponent of abortion. “It could be something that could carry out the bishops’ objective.”

Essentially, the bishops would opt to try and change the reconciliation process and the Byrd rule to accommodate their restrictions of women’s choice. And they would threaten all Senators, Republican or Democrat, who didn’t vote their way, to break the rules.

Those are the words of a group that considers themselves more powerful than the government, and I suppose with good reason.

Now, I have no idea why they would think that Republicans in the Senate would vote affirmatively to untangle the only remaining piece between the Democrats and a health care bill. But, they cite as evidence of their power the initial vote on the Stupak amendment in the House in November, which every Republican voted for.

The precedent of waiving the reconciliation point of order whenever the mood strikes would be potentially powerful for essentially ending the filibuster. But my suspicion is that, if it comes to this, waiving the rules to make allowances for the Catholic bishops to crusade against women would be seen as a one-time deal. “We HAD to do that,” you see, and it’s not applicable to anything, you know, progressive.

If this actually happens – and if Pelosi has no other options to find the votes, I’ve little doubt that she’d at least explore it – you’ve basically ended the separation between church and state in this country.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Catholic Bishops Want To Change Senate Rules To Restrict Choice In Health Care

Here’s an amazing little article from Politico.

The Roman Catholic bishops signaled Thursday that if agreement is reached with House leaders on anti-abortion language, the church would work to get the votes needed to protect the provisions in the Senate — and thereby advance the shared goal with Democrats of health care reform.

What are they talking about? Well, the bishops want the Stupak amendment, which would effectively end coverage of abortion services in all insurance markets over time.

Never mind that the federal government already subsidizes abortions through the employer deduction for coverage that almost always includes reproductive choice. Never mind that the Nelson compromise in the Senate bill would probably do exactly what the Stupak amendment does, because the requirement of two separate payments – one for your health insurance and one for the portion that covers abortion services – “would be cumbersome for insurers and objectionable to customers.” Never mind that Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst for the Urban Institute, said that “There will not be abortion coverage in the exchanges. There just won’t be.” Never mind that the design of two separate payments singles out insurers who offer abortion coverage, opening them up to anti-choice protests. Never mind that under the bill, employer-based coverage is meant to move to the exchanges over time, as the eligibility for the exchanges expand, meaning that this restriction in the individual and small-group markets will eventually be brought to everyone. And never mind even that Ben Nelson, who authored the Senate version, “tried to figure out language that would be as close to Stupak as you could be without repeating the language,” according to his spokesman.

No, the Catholic bishops want to show a measure of dominance over the US government, and they want their way on this. And they have convinced Stupak to reject the “third bill” strategy, which House leaders offered to him.

What they want to do is to put the changes to the abortion language in a reconciliation sidecar bill, the second bill. This ensures that it will get passed as part of the package, since the President and Senate leaders have already promised that the sidecar will become part of the agreement.

But wait, you say. Reconciliation is intended only for budget-related items. How could the Stupak amendment language on abortion survive the inevitable point of order on the Byrd rule? Well, the bishops want to break that rule, and get 60 votes from the Senate to waive the point of order.

“We would strongly urge everyone, Democratic and Republican, to vote to waive the point of order,” Richard Doerflinger, an associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told POLITICO. “Whether it would be enough to get to 60 votes, I can’t predict. We would certainly try.”

“I think it’s something we should explore,” said Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), a longtime opponent of abortion. “It could be something that could carry out the bishops’ objective.”

Essentially, the bishops would opt to try and change the reconciliation process and the Byrd rule to accommodate their restrictions of women’s choice. And they would threaten all Senators, Republican or Democrat, who didn’t vote their way, to break the rules.

Those are the words of a group that considers themselves more powerful than the government, and I suppose with good reason.

Now, I have no idea why they would think that Republicans in the Senate would vote affirmatively to untangle the only remaining piece between the Democrats and a health care bill. But, they cite as evidence of their power the initial vote on the Stupak amendment in the House in November, which every Republican voted for.

The precedent of waiving the reconciliation point of order whenever the mood strikes would be potentially powerful for essentially ending the filibuster. But my suspicion is that, if it comes to this, waiving the rules to make allowances for the Catholic bishops to crusade against women would be seen as a one-time deal. “We HAD to do that,” you see, and it’s not applicable to anything, you know, progressive.

If this actually happens – and if Pelosi has no other options to find the votes, I’ve little doubt that she’d at least explore it – you’ve basically ended the separation between church and state in this country.

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David Dayen

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