Last night the United States cleared a major hurdle and took a huge step towards near universal health care coverage for all U.S. citizens. (Please dissect this sentence: near universal means 96% of Americans covered, it is not a singer payer system, and it will only cover citizens and not undocumented workers...which leaves huge amounts of work to do).
Of course, in grand U.S. fashion, there is also direct and immediate work to do in that in order to pass the House version of the bill last night, an amendment passed that would restrict any federal insurance programs from providing abortion services to any woman except in the case of rape, incest or a direct threat to the health of the mother. Conservative Democrats and Republicans banded together to add this piece of Religious Right assault on a woman's right to choose to the health care bill. The hope for the amendment was two fold: 1) conservative Democrats and GOP members hoped that by restricting a woman's right to choose more liberal Democrats would change their vote and the whole bill would fail or 2) the bill would pass and the amendment would survive through the Senate version and make it into law.
Thank God that liberal Democrats stuck to their guns and passed the bill. I hate the attempt by the Right to restrict a woman's right to choose, but I still support the House bill. Here's why:
The Senate version of the bill does not include the language restricting abortion rights nor will it. The make up of the Senate simply does not require that the language be included in order to gain 60 votes. Frankly, no Senate Republican, except perhaps the two women Senator's from Maine, will back the Senate version of the bill. The fact that it is two women from Maine are moderates and Sen. Snowe has supported reproductive rights for women. I am not sure what the viewpoint of Sen. Susan Collins from Maine, also a Republican, happens to be on the issue.
Now let's remember how a bill becomes a law. In general the House takes the lead in the legislative process. Traditionally the Senate will not debate or vote on a bill (other than treaties, Presidential appointments or other Constitutional procedures that need action by the Senate only) until the House has passed a version of its own. Both chambers often work on bills simultaneously but the House acting as the chamber of the people is given first dibs to present their bill. Once a bill has been passed by the House, the Senate goes into debate mode. In general, the Senate does not consider the content of the House Bill other than in broad generalities. The Senate is comprised of individuals with tremendous power that have all sorts of interests. The Senate then passes its own version of the bill at hand (or fails to pass a bill, which either kills or restarts the process from the beginning). Once the Senate version of the bill has passed the for real for real work happens
Here's the part that most U.S. citizens really do not know or understand: the Conference Committee.
The Constitution requires that both houses of Congress pass IDENTICAL bills. Both houses pick members of a conference committee. The Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House, specifically, choose these people. In general there are a few token members of the committee from the minority party in each house and a larger delegation from the majority party. Now pay close attention here, the conference committee almost has carte blanche to re-write the bill into the form that is most likely to pass both chambers. They, themselves, can add or subtract provisions of the bill...it is during this most undemocratic of processes that all kinds of pork barrel projects end up getting inserted into bills. The President, also, tends to have folks in or near the room to make sure that the key provisions in the bill backed by the White House are in the final bill. The committee then sends its final version of the bill back to both chambers for a final vote. Often, but not always, big differences in the two bills are axed.
This is why we have to act NOW. First of all, we need to put pressure on our U.S. Senators to get a good final Senate bill passed and make sure that there is no anti-choice language in the final Senate version of the bill. Once the final version of the Senate bill is passed, it will then be our work to make sure that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid know that whoever they appoint to the conference committee better know damn well to make sure the anti-choice language does not end up in the final bill.
The Republicans, which are in the minority, know that they will not be able to pass any anti-choice stand alone legislation themselves. They also know that right now the only branch of government firmly in their control is the judiciary. If, God help us, the anti-choice language makes it into the final bill passed by the House and the Senate, it will be the best chance since Roe v. Wade that the Right will have to strike a blow, at the Supreme Court, over abortion rights. Simply put, the restriction worked into the bill would, most likely, under Roe v. Wade be declared unconstitutional. Except, of course, if in reviewing that section of a new health care law the Supreme Court decides that, in fact, the Roe v. Wade decision was wrong and reverses it.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the insidious and diabolical intent behind forcing the language into the House bill, and it is why we all need to do what we need to do in order to make sure it doesn't end up in the final bill and become law.
Even with the language in the bill, I believe that covering nearly all U.S. citizens with health care is worth it. It is my commitment as a man to fight like hell to make sure that the final bill that becomes law does not, once again, create a win on the backs of women's rights.