The weekend's big news is being overshadowed by what legislators probably had hoped would be a minor story. In passing healthcare reform in the House of Representatives, a bit of last-minute horsetrading gave us the Stupak-Pitts amendment. Worried that maybe a nickel of taxpayer dollars might wind up in some abortion provider's pocket, the amendment attacks the "problem" with a handgrenade, making it all but illegal for insurers to cover abortion services. No plan that competes for subsidized customers would be allowed to provide abortion coverage and, as a result, it's nearly impossible to see a way in which insurers would provide coverage at all.
And so now, the big sticking point going forward has become -- pretty much out of the blue -- abortion rights and coverage. The always insightful Greg Sargent explains the situation:
One side point: It will be much tougher for pro-choice Dems to cave and support the bill with Stupak than it was for House progressives to cave and back the bill despite its lack of a robust public option.
Here’s why: Because the public option had initially been written off for dead, the version liberals did secure allowed them to claim they had won something. By contrast, Stupak is a significant step backward for advocates of abortion rights and women’s health issues. So it will be much tougher for pro-choice House Dems to back a final bill with Stupak in the end. This will intensify.
In other words, giving up a real public option is one thing, since it involves losing something that never got beyond the conceptual stage anyway. But giving up ground on abortion rights is another, since it involves losing something people have fought long and hard to gain and would hurt women most in need of reform. Additionally, in a battle where "being a woman is not a preexisting condition" has become a slogan, adding yet another hurdle in front of women seeking adequate health coverage would not be what you call a win.
Yet, in all the coverage of the issue and -- worse -- in the statements from elected officials, we're aren't seeing very many explain it this way. What we're seeing from the media is horserace coverage and what we're getting from pro-choice Democrats are explanations of process. I can't think of a better way to trivialize what we're really talking about here.
The television media is probably the main culprit here. Given a choice between "easy to understand" or "comprehensive," they go with the former. "Amendment make pro-choice Democrat mad! Grrr! Big fight! Watch!" As always, I feel compelled to remind you that a TV pundit's job isn't to inform you, a TV pundit's job is to get you to watch TV.
But how difficult is the Stupak amendment to explain? Rep. Diana DeGette seems to have done a pretty good job of making it accessible; "Frankly, the women of America should be furious because this just does not say no federal funding for abortion, this says women cannot use their own money to buy an insurance policy that would include a legal medical procedure."
You could probably be as peanut-brained as the TV news producers seem to think you are and still be able to wrap your mind around that. It's not an extremely wonky issue. It's when we fall into explanations of process that pro-choice Democrats get into trouble, as Sen. Claire McCaskill demonstrates:
"...Obviously, I have been a pro-choice candidate for my entire political career, and obviously there is controversy always surrounding this issue. But we are talking about whether or not people that get public money can buy an insurance policy that has a coverage for abortion. And that is not the majority of America. The majority of America is not going to be getting subsidies from the government...."
"And so, I am not sure that this is going to be enough to kill the bill," McCaskill added. "And frankly, once again, this is another example of having to govern with moderates. We can't just turn our back on the fact that the reason we are in majority, is because states like Indiana, and Arkansas, and Louisiana, and Missouri, and North Carolina, and Virginia sent Democrats to the Senate."
McCaskill was later forced to clarify that she was against a similar provision in the Senate. For future reference, the best way to fight something is not to start out by explaining why you expect to lose. And the way to keep that expectation from being a self-fulfilling prophecy is to actually explain what's wrong with the provision, rather than get bogged down in the nuts and bolts legislative wrangling. Just because the media wants to turn the whole thing into a freakin' soap opera (McCaskill's comments came on MSNBC's Morning Joe) doesn't mean you have to give them one. Talk about the Stupak amendment and how it screws women by actually making insurance coverage worse, then let go from there. In any case, there's no shortage of people in the know who believe McCaskill's wrong about the vote count.
So, what's wrong with the Stupak amendment and what would it mean for women nationwide? Who cares? All you need to know is that there's going to be a big fight and you can watch it all on the teevee machine.
That's what we're calling "news" these days.
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