House Democrat Takes On Party Leaders

In a surprising and fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes negotiations of proposed health care legislation on Capitol Hill, a prominent Democrat says the actions of his party's leaders in recent days represents a "pretty sad commentary on the state of the Democratic party."

If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding out hope that Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) will replicate his "yes" vote on health care reform she can probably forget it. In a wide-ranging swipe at his party's leaders, Stupak told an interviewer that he is a definite "no" vote on a health care bill that is expected to reach the House floor next week.

A single vote could make the difference in the fate of the legislation but Stupak says other pro-life Democrats who had been part of his coalition fighting for specific language on abortion funding have given up the fight. "It's almost like some right-to-life members don't want to be bothered. They just want this over," Stupak told National Review's Robert Costa in an article published on-line Friday. If that's the case, Democratic leaders may be able to prevail without Stupak's support.

The Michigan Democrat's vitriol for House leaders shines a bright light on the normally secret negotiations. "They're ignoring me," Stupak asserts while concluding that the final bill will not have the stronger abortion-related language that he's long supported and was able to force in the first bill the House passed late last year.

"[E]ven if they don't have the votes, it's been made clear to us that they won't insert our language on the abortion issue," Stupak says.   "I really believe that the Democratic leadership is simply unwilling to change its stance. Their position says that women, especially those without means available, should have their abortions covered."

Stupak offers an interesting take on why party leaders don't want his effort to succeed.  "If you pass the Stupak amendment, more children will be born, and therefore it will cost us millions more. That's one of the arguments I've been hearing," Stupak says. "Money is their hang-up. Is this how we now value life in America? If money is the issue - come on, we can find room in the budget. This is life we're talking about."

Stupak believes that if a final health care bill passes without strong language on abortion funding, it will effectively freeze out pro-life Democrats in the future. He says he will remain a Democrat but predicts that any effort to change the abortion language would have to wait "until the Republicans take back the majority to fix this."  You read that right, a Democrat looking forward to a Republican take-over of Congress!

Stupak's prominence and apparent resolve on this issue has increased the political heat on the nine-term Democrat.   "This has really reached an unhealthy stage," Stupak says. "People are threatening ethics complaints on me. On the left, they're really stepping it up. Every day, from Rachel Maddow to the Daily Kos, it keeps coming. Does it bother me? Sure. Does it change my position? No."

A Friday posting on Daily Kos has this headline: "Women ROAR BACK against Stupak/Pitts!" It targets Stupak and Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) and is a fundraising appeal for Stupak's primary challenger. "If you were pissed when Joe Wilson shouted YOU LIE at President Obama I want you to channel that same sort of anger and aim it in support of Connie Saltonstall..."

Earlier this week, MSNBC's Maddow took direct aim at Stupak saying his efforts were designed to do nothing more than get him on television. "Abortion rights only for rich ladies. That's Bart Stupak's principled crusade," Maddow said.

Stupak does not name names in his attack on party leaders but in a radio interview Thursday, Stupak recounted a conversation he had with House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), a central figure in the health care debate. Stupak said Waxman told him that Democratic leaders "want to pay for abortions."  In a statement to Fox News, Waxman said “My position has been clear and consistent.  I do not believe health reform should be used to change current law, which prohibits federal funds from paying for abortion.”