I think I’ve finally figured out a way of pissing off both my pro-choice and pro-life readers in one post. Here goes.
I believe that if one’s goal is to get health care to reflect the status quo on abortion, the Baucus proposal (reviled by pro-lifers) gets you in the zone. I further believe that the Republican amendments (reviled by pro-choicers) get you in the zone, too.
Activists on both sides will cast the other’s position as not only mistaken but dangerously, immorally and obviously wrong. Truth is, under pressure from pro-lifers, Senate Democrats have now taken out the direct subsidies for abortion. (At some point, pro-lifers might consider the strategy of “declaring victory”).
What’s left are some murky areas involving indirect subsidies. Democrats have come up with one plan for insuring that taxpayers don’t indirectly subsidize abortion. Republicans have come up with another. Frankly, each can cite valid precedents to prove their case. My gut: the Republican approach is cleaner and slightly closer to the status quo but both are defensible.
So where does that grayness-and-subjectivity leave us? It means that the test we’ve been using so far — “does it reflect the status quo?” — won’t easily get this over the goal line. The obvious cases of the legislation departing from the status quo have been eliminated (in the Senate bill anyway); we’re now into the realm of subjective minutia.
And where substance doesn’t rule, raw politics shall.
What I keep hearing from Democrats is: why should we compromise more on abortion when it won’t get us a single additional vote?
Ironically, because Republicans have more or less decided to oppose any health care reform bill, they’ve reduced their leverage on certain substantive matters like abortion.
There are Senate Democrats who would likely go along with the more-pro-life Enzi and Hatch amendments on abortion if they thought it would bring aboard Enzi and Hatch on to the health care legislation. Since Enzi and Hatch will almost certainly oppose health care reform, Democrats won’t support their abortion amendments.
As it happens, the two Republicans the Democrats have the best chance of luring — Maine’s Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — are both pro-choice.
(The dynamics may eventually be different on the House side where there are 40 pro-life Democrats who might be affected by the final batch of abortion compromises).
In a way, this puts Mssrs. Enzi and Hatch in an interesting position. They probably have the ability to win a total victory on abortion for their side. All they’d have to do is agree to vote for health care reform in general. Which will be stronger: their concern for the unborn or their fear of other parts of Obamacare?
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About Steve Waldman
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