In response to last Tuesday's Massachusetts upset, David Plouffe, Obama's former campaign manager and current heavyweight Democratic strategist, has a great op-ed that reads as a rallying cry for Democrats to toughen up and do their jobs. He hits all the points—Reform healthcare now! Create some jobs! Shut down GOP bitching about deficits and spending! No bed wetting! (seriously, guys)—but what struck me most was what he had to say about health care:
Pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay. Americans' health and our nation's long-term fiscal health depend on it. I know that the short-term politics are bad. It's a good plan that's become a demonized caricature. But politically speaking, if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside.
While I completely agree with Plouffe's point—we need meaningful health care reform—over the last few months Democrats have compromised both the House and Senate bills to restrict their coverage of women's health care, going above and beyond the Hyde amendment (which prevents federal funds from covering the costs of abortions) to include provisions that are ridiculous, cumbersome, and confusing. To recap:
The Stupak Amendment, proposed by democrat Bart Stupak and passed with the support of 64 fellow Democrats in the House, threatens the availability of insurance coverage for elective abortions among the working poor and lower middle class. If passed, working mothers in families earning up to $88,000, self-employed women, young women entering the job market for the first time, recently divorced or widowed women (who were covered on their spouse's plan), and women working for small businesses wouldn't have access to abortion coverage through the exchange.
The Nelson abortion check provision prohibits private plans from offering abortion coverage to both subsidized and unsubsidized individuals, which would force insurance companies to create two nearly identical plans (or simply not offer one with abortion coverage). The provision would force everyone—male and female—enrolled on a health care plan that includes abortion to write two separate checks, one for the bulk of the premium and the other for the allocated abortion care. It also includes “conscience clause” language that protects individuals or entities who refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage for, or refer for abortion. Nelson, a Catholic, lauds this “conscience clause” as voting with his conscience, which could mean that women who have abortions don't have consciences, or his conscience isn't tied to the job he was elected to do (as this poll would suggest), but to God (and He's the one with the beef against women).
Yes, it's demoralizing that we no longer have a supermajority in Senate. But women and pro-choice advocates have had reason to be disappointed for months now. The quickest way to accomplish Plouffe's call for action would be to push the Senate bill through budget reconciliation—a process that, while filibuster-proof, could only be used to address budget and spending issues, not social policy issues covered in the current legislation, such as abortion funding.
So where does that leave us? I have calls in to several local women's rights groups to find out their thoughts. What's clear is that if either bill is passed as-is, we'll be celebrating a progressive victory for health care reform that also ushers in the most restrictive abortion access in thirty years, and we'll have Democrats to thank for both.