Budget battles and abortion

During the course of this contentious week in Washington over federal spending and a government shutdown at the end of it, the issue of abortion has emerged at the height and center of controversy. This isn’t a wonkish debate after all. It’s about core social values. Like….human beings who become the society that drives the economy.

Who saw this coming?

The policy fight threatening to blow up budget negotiations involves an issue that has been on the sidelines in recent months: abortion.

Until this week, social issues have been largely overshadowed by economic matters amid suggestions from Republican leaders that such debates be put aside while the nation tackles its debt. But now, social conservatives are flexing their muscles, insisting that Planned Parenthood be stripped of federal funding in the spending bill for the rest of the current fiscal year.

There is no reason why taxpayer dollars should fund the abortion industry. Or some of the other protected special interests coming to light this week.

And reason is finally being applied to the debate.

And then again…

There’s this update:

Democratic sources tonight said the major sticking point to a budget deal remains the GOP rider prohibiting any federal funding to Planned Parenthood or any of its affiliates. An aide to Speaker John Boehner denied that Planned Parenthood is the main remaining sticking point, saying, “Spending, spending, spending. That is the remaining issue.” Do you think Planned Parenthood should be part of this debate?

Wow, what a question.

Obama defends government

Yep, that’s the headline in this New York Times article on the president’s commencement address at the University of Michigan. What’s the news value of that?

In my estimation, it’s partly that the earlier edition of this same online story carried a header saying Obama urged graduates to “Be Civil”. Now that’s interesting.

President Obama on Saturday directly confronted the sharpening political rancor in Washington, on the airwaves and on the Internet, telling the graduating class at the University of Michigan that the country needs a “basic level of civility in our public discourse.”

Yes, and it starts at home. The White House chief of staff amuses members of the press with his reputation for profanities. Just this week high-ranking Democrats in Congress have grilled financial market executives by repeating a string of bleeped out adjectives that led the press to call them “potty-mouthed congressional interrogators.”

But Obama delivers an address saying that everyone needs to “find ways to listen to one another.”  Indeed.

“Throwing around phrases like ‘socialist’ and ‘Soviet-style takeover,’ ‘fascist’ and ‘right-wing nut’ may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, or our political opponents, to authoritarian and even murderous regimes,” Mr. Obama said. Such rhetoric, he said, closes the door to political compromise.

Where was the “listening to one another” and “political compromise” during the health care reform debate?

The Times re-did this story to add some of Obama’s stand up routine at the White House correspondents dinner. But it was largely not funny and sometimes startlingly so (in a joke about vice-president Joe Biden, Obama repeated an expletive under his breath that was picked up on his mic). The shot at Sarah Palin and the joke about death panels in the health care legislation were considerably unpresidential and distinctly tasteless.

So the  Times piece winds up back at his commencement speech and a reference to letters from kindergarten students and it ends on a question:

“The student asked, ‘Are people being nice?’ ”

Unlike the highest members of government, this inquiring child wasn’t being rhetorical.

If these people are running Ukraine

Think the Brits have the corner on parliamentary antics?

Along comes this….

Amid smoke bombs and flying eggs hurled by enraged opposition deputies, Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday controversially agreed to extend the Russian Navy’s lease on the Crimean port of Sevastopol for 25 years in exchange for billions of dollars worth of discounted Russian gas.

Video of this melee has been playing on news shows all day. And I keep wondering…..what’s that big parachute looking thing doing in parliament, and….how did eggs get in there? And, who brought the smoke bombs?

And we thought our Congress was bad.

Signs of the times

America is still a representative republic, and a lot of people in the republic aren’t happy with their representatives and the work they’re doing or not doing in Washington.

So they’re speaking out. This doctor in Florida is so frustrated with the results of the healthcare battle, he’s taking his own stand against it.

The phones at one Lake County doctor’s office have been busy after he posted a sign that reads: “If you voted for Obama, seek urologic care elsewhere.”

Calls have been flooding in to Dr. Jack Cassell’s office from all over the country, both in support and outrage over his little, orange sign.

“For every one person whose feelings get hurt, I have 99 people who are educated to the fact that ‘Obamacare’ sucks,” Cassell told News 13.

The sign goes on to read: “Changes to your health care begin right now, not in four years.”

It’s startling, and he meant it to be.

“It’s like seeing a provocative billboard,” Cassell said. “That’s what I’m doing. It has nothing to do with denial of care.”

The doctor said he would not deny anyone care, no matter whom they support politically, but he wanted his customers to know how he felt about the whole thing.

So did the group that got together and funded and created the billboard in Lake County, Florida a couple of months ago. Word is, it will be up for ten months, and potentially seen by a million vehicles a month. Constructive venting…

It’s all about abortion

Abortion is the new civil rights movement, and people who believe in the sanctity of all human life and understand the centrality of human dignity to the making of all social policy are walking the same walk Dr. Martin Luther King, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and armies of human rights activists did to protect the class of people who had been denied rights for so long in this country by virtue of race.

The pro-life/pro-abortion battle is the same, only the class of humans has slightly changed. The small, young, vulnerable pre-born human babies who are already in existence in their mother’s wombs, who are whole and entire and unique and unrepeatable, who are both genders and all races, are denied any human rights if they are deemed inconvenient or unwanted or threatening in some way.

Okay, we know this. Sort of. But to the highest levels of power in this nation (not to mention the many others that have rendered abortion legal), it’s still like ‘The Emperor’s Clothes’……they make up false stories that replace truth, and then choose to believe those false stories….and then eventually are convinced that what they believe is fully true. And then they fight to hold onto what they’ve gained by spreading those stories.

Which brings us to the heat of the moment in Congress. 

White House officials and House Democratic leaders worked furiously on Saturday to secure the votes needed to pass landmark health care legislation, with the outcome riding on a small group of lawmakers who want the bill to include tighter limits on insurance coverage for abortions.

Actually, in clearer words, what those lawmakers want is for health care reform legislation to explicitly exclude any federal funding for abortion procedures by any means. Which is merely trying to protect the longstanding Hyde Amendment.

Members of Congress have been debating and lobbying for and arguing over many particular concerns they have on things like the budget and the cost and taxes and the insurance industry and Medicare and Medicaid and voting procedures, and so on.

But the fight of abortion overshadowed every other aspect of the debate.

As of this writing, it’s unresolved. But not looking good for the greatest concern of the pro-life legislators. Which is that abortion is not health care. To say the very least.

Beware health care pitfalls

Like….’Demon Pass’.

We’ve been hearing nearly all week about the odd maneuver the House may try this weekend called ‘deem and pass’ or ‘the no-vote vote’ as some have called it. But the first time I’d heard it put another way was on Friday evening’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer in the Shields and Brooks segment.

First David Brooks said this:

I find the deem and pass, this idea that we’re not going vote on it, we’re just going to deem it passed and then vote on the amendments, I find that so repulsive, I’m — I’m out of my skin with anger about that.

Lehrer asks why.

David Brooks: To me, you take responsibility. You take responsibility. If you support something, you vote for it, and then you vote for the amendment. And then you take responsibility.

The idea that you are dodging responsibility, that Nancy Pelosi — I have a quote here. She said: “I like it,” deem and pass, “because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill.”

That is a betrayal of everything we teach our children about democracy. And the fact that people are thinking about this means they’re so deep in the weeds about trying to get this passed, they have decided the ends justify any means.

Brooks was unusually animated and making a compelling argument.

But it would — they think it would make it slightly politically easier if the American people are stupid enough to say, oh, I didn’t vote for the bill, I just voted for the amendments, for some members.

I find this a total insult to the democratic process.

Mark Shields doesn’t like it either, and he was the first I heard utter the new name for the maneuver.

I am not recommending deem and pass, which now has become “demon pass.” It sort of sounds diabolical in the public language. I’m not recommending that by any means.

Here’s the rest:

DAVID BROOKS: Vote for the damn bill. If you support it, vote for the bill.

MARK SHIELDS: They are voting for the bill.

DAVID BROOKS: Don’t dodge around it. It is just terrible. It’s just — and, by the way, when they do deem and pass, they have taken the Senate down another degrading road through reconciliation.

We have the Senate as separate from the House because simple majority doesn’t rule in the Senate. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton were all against simple majoritarianism when the Republicans were in control. Now it will be just like the House, where you only need 51 votes. That gives tremendous power to the leaders. It totally undermines any thought that we should ever have cross-party negotiations.


Now for the Slaughter, says Peggy Noonan

Healthcare reform turns on abortion

We do have some principled leadership in Congress, after all. Especially the Democrat who refuses to buckle under massive pressure from the White House, Senate and House powerbrokers and most of the big media opinionmakers: Bart Stupak. He’s sending them all into a tailspin.

It’s making for dramatic headlines and re-centering the focus of attention on today’s civil rights movement….the right to life.

A dozen House of Representatives Democrats opposed to abortion are willing to kill President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform plan unless it satisfies their demand for language barring the procedure, Representative Bart Stupak said on Thursday.

“Yes. We’re prepared to take responsibility,” Stupak said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” when asked if he and his 11 Democratic allies were willing to accept the consequences for bringing down healthcare reform over abortion.

“Let’s face it. I want to see healthcare. But we’re not going to bypass the principles of belief that we feel strongly about,” he said.

The Michigan Democrat held up House legislation last year until he was satisfied that its language prevented federal tax dollars from being used to fund abortions.

While others are caving in through compromise deals and other bargains and arm-twisting, Stupak and gang are holding out, thankfully tethered to their moral compass.

This same story quotes Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assuring that federal funds won’t be spent on abortion. But at this point, given that the Senate version of health care reform is the engine driving the train, that’s just as much a misleading statement (okay, a lie) as Senator Reid’s protestations at the health care summit that Democrats were even thinking about reconciliation and Speaker Pelosi’s protestations at that summit declaring that abortion would be covered in the plans, and President Obama’s claims about nearly all of it.

So most of Mr. Obama’s first year in office has been paralyzed over nothing more than minor regulatory hair-splitting. This is so preposterous that the President can’t possibly believe it.

Congress’s spring break begins on March 29, and Democratic leaders plan on jamming this monster through Congress before then. Americans have to hope that enough rank-and-file Democrats aren’t as deaf to fiscal honesty as this President.

And moral responsibility. At least Bart Stupak is hearing….and speaking….with clarity.

(Note: For anyone in the Chicago region at the end of April, Stupak will be speaking as keynote at the Illinois Catholic Prayer Breakfast on April 30th, on the role of moral leadership and faithful citizenship in social policies these days. And God only knows how Stupak and his moral holdouts will fare between now and then. Ought to be one interesting moment of truth for everyone involved. Here’s the info.)

Obama’s shifting strategy

His rapid trajectory of political success started on the streets and in neighborhood gatherings on the south side of Chicago, and now the Community Organizer-in-Chief is applying his street savvy instincts again to the conditions he finds people in, which is change they didn’t count on.

Interesting strategy. The people are angry at the way business is being done, but he sees their anger and jumps into the crowd and tries to lead the charge against….what’s making them angry. Never mind that it’s how business is being done under him.

Obama’s expansive domestic goals are largely the same, but his message is changing, now constructed around a concession that the public is disillusioned and wanting results. If he cannot show people that he understands their frustration and is working to fix it, the risks are real.

All that angst that Obama wants to harness as a force for change — as he did in his campaign — will turn against him. That means eroding public support for his agenda and potentially big losses for his party this year in congressional midterm elections.

Obama realized that the voter frustration he had played on to win the White House was exactly the same force behind Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts.

A new White House talking point was born, and it was hardly hope and change.

On that same day of postelection analysis, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs used some description of anger, frustration or both 12 times to describe what people were feeling, including this one: “That anger is now pointed at us, because we’re in charge. Rightly so.”

There’s some rare introspection from this White House.

So the new strategy is identifying with the people’s anger, saying he understands that and shares their frustration, and then proceeding to blame lack of progress on someone else.

He must connect to people’s bitterness without becoming exactly the person he warns about, politicians who exploit anger. And he has to personally relate to people’s wrenching financial losses when his natural style is to speak in a professorial, explanatory way.

Even Obama has lamented a sense of public detachment from all his difficult first-year work, and has said he wants to do an improved job of communicating directly to people.

That’s getting noticeably harder suddenly, after the health care summit showed him moderating a seven hour debate with Republicans, and a new row has erupted in liberal media quarters over some internal dissension in the highest White House ranks.

Beyond the disloyalty and all that, the real reason the Milbank column has enraged so many left-wing bloggers and liberal columnists is that Emanuel’s understanding of the political landscape puts him in the reality-based community. And that is a community the Obama cult refuses to join.

So, ultimately, he can’t organize it. But the citizens are capable of doing that now on their own.