As cynical as I am about politics, I still cling to the belief that ideas matter, that cogent policy arguments can sway people, and that content is more important than process. But then you see what’s going on in the United States Senate.
The current spectacle over health care “reform” in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is a case study on how not to make legislation, especially on an issue that can cost people their lives.
The Senate leadership is acting as if the chamber is an open-air bazaar, and is nakedly buying votes and selling favors to get Senators to jettison their objections to the bill. The President is pressuring Congress to act, as if he believes all that nonsense about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world, saying that this is the last chance ever to reform health care. Reasoned debate has long since gone beyond the board, and naked political calculation seems to be all that matters. Passing the bill — any bill — has become an end in itself, regardless of its contents. The hesitancy of the American people, as reflected in the opinion polls, doesn’t count, as Congress rushes headlong to change a fundamental aspect of American life.
Here’s how bad it is. Over the weekend, Congress passed an enormous appropriations bill. In that bill were three key provisions of interest to Catholics: the Hyde Amendment (which strictly limits federal funding for abortions), the prohibition of abortion funding in federal employee benefit plans, and the Weldon Amendment (which protects the conscience rights of health care institutions and providers). Virtually every Democratic Senator voted for the appropriations bill, and thus for these provisions.
Yet these are the same Senators who have been claiming that the same language as is found in the Hyde Amendment and the federal benefits provision, when offered as an amendment to the health care bill (the Stupak Amendment), was too “extreme”. These are also the same Senators who have done nothing to add adequate conscience protection language to the health care bill.
How does this make any sense? Do they even try to be consistent in what they say and do?
This is a very frustrating time to be a public policy advocate. It is in this poisonous atmosphere that the Catholic bishops are trying to make a principled argument about the deficiencies of the pending Senate bill. The bishops have been highlighting the inadequate protections for human life, and have been respectfully requesting that the bill be fixed. They have consistently supported common-sense amendments to the bill, and have expressed their desire for authentic health care reform that protects life, provides justice for immigrants, and ensures that the bill results in affordable access to health care for all. They have written letter after letter, made public statement after public statement. Is anybody listening?
And it’s not as if the stakes are small. If adequate conscience protection is not ensured, medical professionals and institutions will be forced out of business. But even worse, lives are at stake here. It is clear that when there is increased public funding for elective abortion, the number of abortions increase. ln other words, if the Senate bill passes in its current form, more children will be killed in the womb, and we will be forced to pay the doctors who commit such atrocities.
The credibility, and even the fundamental legitimacy, of the democratic process is on trial in Washington. The picture right now isn’t pretty.