Rep. Bart Stupak, at the heart of health care and abortion.

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March 23 2010 9:47 PM

"Not a Lot of Fun"

Rep. Bart Stupak, at the heart of health care and abortion.

Rep. Bart Stupak. Click image to expand.
Rep. Bart Stupak

Bart Stupak is disillusioned with pro-life groups, expects more from Rep. Neugebauer, and may have a different view than the White House about the executive order the president will sign tomorrow relating to abortion and the new health care bill.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

I interviewed Stupak for CBS's program Washington Unplugged. He praised the health care bill and the compromise that ultimately secured his vote. "Some people say this piece of paper isn't worth it, but I would remind them that in 2007, when George W. Bush signed the executive order to prevent stem-cell research, these groups that are criticizing it, they applauded it, they welcomed it; and now President Obama's going to sign an executive order once again protecting life and somehow it's not worth the paper it's written on. You can't have it both ways."

Stupak said the last several months of intense pressure from interest groups, fellow lawmakers, and the media have not been fun, and he sounded thoroughly disillusioned with the anti-abortion groups that went from being his allies to his new enemies: "I really have to wonder, these groups who now say this wasn't good enough. Were they really interested in protecting life or were they just trying to politicize the life issue to defeat health care? I'm really disappointed in some of these groups that I've worked with for a long time."

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When I asked Stupak about the scope of the executive order the president will sign Wednesday, related to abortion, he seemed to have a different understanding about its reach than the administration. The executive order and the underlying legislation base the abortion restrictions on the Hyde Amendment, which denies the use of certain federal funds for abortions. The amendment must be reauthorized each year—and has been for the last 36 years. It's unlikely it will not be renewed each year. But according to the administration sources to whom I talked, if it does not get renewed, the provisions on abortion in the health care legislation no longer hold.

Stupak offered what appeared to be a different reading when I spoke to him:

John Dickerson: Let's say the Hyde Amendment for some reason—which seems unlikely—doesn't get approved for another year; then do these restrictions go away?

Stupak: No, because the president said he will implement the Hyde restrictions and that makes it applicable to this law. This executive order goes to the law creating this health care plan. It doesn't apply back to the annual appropriation process. So the Hyde restrictions would apply to this law, not the annual appropriations.

J.D.: So, just to be clear, this now goes off into the future forever unless another president repeals it through another executive order or a law is passed—as opposed to the Hyde Amendment, which, in theory, is vulnerable each year.

Stupak: Correct, John.

Given that the Hyde Amendment is reliably renewed each year, administration officials say this is a distinction without a difference. But as my colleague Tim Noah has pointed out, this distinction matters quite a bit to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Stupak who pushed to remove this annual process and make the blocks permanent.

When I asked the congressman about the highly political environment surrounding the bill's passage, he said: "I'd rather lose my seat over something like this, a good piece of health care legislation that I believe in. And if I lose my seat over it, well, maybe it was worth it."

Rep. Randy Neugebauer apologized to Stupak yesterday for shouting "baby killer," on the House floor during the debate over the legislation (Tuesday he also released a video with his wife), but Stupak hoped he would go further and apologize to the House of Representatives: "Randy did call and apologize. He said it wasn't directed towards me personally. Well, if that's the case, then it must have been directed to the rest of the members of the House. I would hope Randy would just clear it up and take to the floor of the House and say, "look I didn't mean to offend anyone. If I did, I apologize." That's what he should do and that's what I would expect him to do."

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