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Could the Catholic Church kill healthcare reform? Pelosi, a Catholic, deems the bill toward passage

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed by in health care fight March 15, 2010
They were a major power when the healthcare bill first came up on the House floor, forcing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to allow Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak's amendment explicitly banning use of public funds for abortions, a move that provoked real anger from her liberal base.

Now, Catholic bishops are working to torpedo the healthcare reform effort, providing the tipping point against historic reform, with all the implications that has for President Obama's presidency and Democrats' chances of holding the House.

Archbishop Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement noting the Catholic Church's long track record of providing and advocating for more equitable healthcare. But he urged lawmakers to defeat it, saying that, "regrettably," because the Senate bill does not contain a firewall against abortion as the House bill did, "the cost is too high; the loss is too great."

The bishops do not speak for all Catholics -- Pelosi herself being the prime example. But the drumroll of opposition from anti-abortion groups -- including Americans United for Life, which is running a $350,000 ad campaign aimed at eight Democratic lawmakers who supported Stupak's amendment -- may be one reason the speaker has gone to a new tactic -- the "deem to pass" option. [Updated at 10:55 a.m.: Under that still-being-negotiated scenario, the House would not have to vote directly on the Senate bill, only acknowledge it as part of a rule that allows lawmakers to consider the new Senate version.]

Commentators have gone ballistic over the play. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham has likened the Democratic drive toward healthcare passage to a World War II-era Japanese Kamikaze mission. "Nancy Pelosi, I think, has got them all liquored up on sake and, you know, they're making a suicide run here," he said during a call Monday to the Keven Cohen Show on WVOC radio in Columbia, S.C.

But the move is not unprecedented. Brookings Institution's Thomas Mann notes that a similar strategy was used to enact a smoking ban on domestic air flights.

And by November, the manner of passage may seem less important than the achievement. After all, the public already suspects Congress of shenanigans. This is process, not substance, the stuff of sausage-making that defines the art of legislating.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) attends a Capitol Hill healthcare rally sponsored by pediatric physicians and on Monday. Credit: Getty Images

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"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. " Abraham Lincoln

Obama said a year ago that he would not go the path of reconciliation. Obama one month ago pledged an up or down vote. Today, he is a man hiding in the shadows, hoping that this shadow vote will preserve his "legacy". A man who hides in the shadows deserves nothing.

No, getting a law enacted without requiring the House to vote on it is not a mere "shenanigan." Nor is it a "kerfuffle," a "process argument" or any of the other dismissive euphemisms the press is trying hard to convince itself and its readers that it is.

What it is, is a coup.

In this country, an elected representative is supposed to be accountable for his or her vote. Anything less contravenes the Constitution and is illegitimate. Passing the bill this way will lead to a cycle of recriminations that could destroy this country's governing system. You, of all people, a reporter, should be screaming about this. But you aren't because basically you sympathize with the congress members who are pushing for this. Those nasty Republican attack ads might be launched against members who voted for the Senate bill, doncha know? And that's just beyond the pale. Better to burn the Constitution than give the GOP another talking point, right?

It is simply incorrect that the Senate bill allows public money to be used for abortions. Either the Catholic Church's spokespeople don't know what they are talking about, or they are lying for their own purposes. To quote the article I am about to link to, "A close reading of the two bills, however, informed by analyses from a range of experts, reveals that the pro-life claims about the Senate bill and its abortion financing provisions are, in fact, mistaken. Indeed, the Senate bill is in some respects arguably stronger in barring abortion financing and in promoting abortion reduction."

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Why are we allowing a handful of obstinate and ignorant legislators from some of the LEAST populous states, and the Catholic Church, to decide whether our fellow citizens and our sagging economy get the benefit of insurance reform?

What about the separation of church and state? Why is religion sticking its nose in politics? Reminds me of the harlot of Rev 17, named Babylon the Great that mixes the two. But in the end she goes down in destruction Rev 18: 2,4,8 because government turns on her exposing her and finally decimating her.

We see it in progress now.

As a L.A. Times' long time subscriber, I'm saddened by the drum beating of the Times for this flawed healthcare bill. The proposal will promote abortions and lacks any provision for protecting the freedom of consciences of healthcare providers.

Reference to Thomas Mann of the Brooking Institution is ridiculous. How does anyone equate a healthcare bill that will constitute approximately one sixth of the GNP to a "smoking ban on airplanes"? Shame on Mann and shame on the Times!

(You'd do better taking your beef with the newspaper to the newspaper. This is not the newspaper. Good luck.)

Isn't Pelosi a Roman Catholic?

Time to excommunicate her. ;-D

Going to be a big historical moment alright! Going down as the biggest historical moment when government elected officials told the american people to go F*** themselves! Let me try once again. I pay taxes and I do not want to fund abortion with my tax dollars nor do I want to pay for health insurance for every citizen in this country, especially citizens who can work and buy their own. I do not want the government to run my healthcare. I do agree with reforming how Insurance companies sell health insurance to the public. After the Mid-term, I don't see how the Dems will return to majority for at least 40 years.

If we oppose abortion, then we need to open orphanages every where. In the 1930s the poor Catholics had built beautiful churches, Catholic schools and orphanages every where.

The writer is wrong in stating the Catholic Bishops don't represent all Catholics. In fact, the Bishops represent all Catholics, who practice their faith.

How absurd a title! The Catholic Church is passionately in favor of health care. The death of the present proposal will be due to a blind allegiance to an agenda that insists abortion is something everyone should be forced to subsidize.

I think that this position by the Catholic Church is deplorable. In light of the sexual abuse history of this so-called "church", the Catholic bishops have no credibility or moral authority. They stand up for the unborn, yet ignore the living children who were abused by their "holy" men. It is time for the Bishops and the Pope to stand aside as spokesmen for what is right for the vast majority of Americans. They are a joke.

This is truly outrageous and is yet another unfortunate example of the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States and its policy of love the fetus, hate the child. The church needs to decide if it’s a church or a political action committee. If the latter, it must forfeit its tax exemptions. If the former, it must butt out of politics.

"….., the House would not have to vote directly on the Senate bill, only acknowledge it as part of a rule that allows lawmakers to consider the new Senate version……" Does anyone, including the above author, have the slightest idea what this means? I have a degree and this is the damnedest gobbledygook I've heard since I don't know when. To the author - please try to write in meaningful English. Freedom of speech means freedom to communicate not to avoid to communicating by being obscure to the point of incomprehensibility.

Its a shame when elected officials forget who they represent. When they become so self righteus and ego centric they actually believe that they ARE the government rather than the representatives of ALL the people in their constituency.
Personal views should frame whether they are prepared to accept such positions not that the positions are about them personally.
Religion was deliberately EXCLUDED by the founding fathers from government and Ms Pelosi should choose and resign if she finds this too onerous and maybe move to a country where the religious controllers have done such a fine job (yeah right!)

Republicans used reconciliation 16 times over the past 30 years to pass legislation, including broad, controversial initiatives such as welfare reform in 1996 and major tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Along with funding two wars, THESE TAX CUTS PUT AMERICA IN THE SHAPE WE ARE TODAY, not anything Obama has done.

Pass Health Care Reform now!!!

If I call myself the centerfielder for the Dodgers, would that make it true? If Pelosi calls herself a Catholic, would that make that true? The answer's the same: there are objectively verifiable criteria by which to decide if one is lying or not. She is a liar. If you media types did your job, you'd call her a "self-described Catholic". But, alas, you don't.

It is unsurprising to see conservative Catholics who care more about abortion than anything else.

I guess their priorities make sense, given that Jesus talks about abortion in the gospels every other page. Plus, Jesus never really focuses on teaching his followers to helping the sick and the poor.

I certainly pray that this bill fails to pass.

Somebody aught to kill this boondoggle. It is immoral to steal from some to fund services for others.

Surprise, surprise, those who support theft also support murder.

Get a clue.

@ Vail Beach, as it happens, not only is this NOT an unprecedented occurrence, but the Republican Party is also currently the leader in employing the technique you referred to as a "coup". From the article I am about to link to:

' Of particular interest were complaints from Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Rules Committee, who called use of the self-executing rule "very painful and troubling." It's interesting -- Dreier found the rule neither painful nor troubling when he used it in 2006.

' Indeed, while the deem-and-pass approach used to be rare, its use became far more common 15 years ago -- right after Republicans took over Congress. Don Wolfensberger, former chief of staff for the House Rules Committee under Republicans, explained in a column a few years ago, "When Republicans took power in 1995, they soon lost their aversion to self-executing rules and proceeded to set new records under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)." '

Although the previous Administration's behavior has given most of us the distinct impression that Republicans don't mind at all contravening the Constitution and using illegitimate tactics as long as they're the only ones allowed to do so, this process is neither unconstitutional nor illegitimate. It's an unfortunate outcome of a legislative body so paralyzed by partisan politics that unusual measures need to be taken to carry out the will of the people, who have said in poll after poll that they really, REALLY want Washington to rein in the greed of the insurance corporations.

There is one simple rule for catholics: if you think abortion is wrong, don't have one. But the Bishop's efforts to influence US Legislation is wrong; we have had separation of church and state for two hundred years, which has kept the US as a bastion of personal freedom and liberty. The church, on the other hand, has been found guilty of aiding and abetting paedophile priests for over fifty years; how can such a debased organization have the balls to dictate to others what is moral or right?

The nuns are much closer to reality, to the massive improvement in health care that the Senate bill will provide. and they are demonstrating a basic reality of the catholic church: the rules of the church always provide for any person to behave according to his/her conscience. Bishops can teach but the ADULTS must decide. The nuns are deciding and the Bishops are pissed; it's a good thing.

I personally will vote against any representative who votes against the health care bill. Moreover, if the bill does not pass I will track down and contribute to the defeat of those representatives who caused it's failure due to abortion regulations. (I may do this even if it passes; I don't think these people, who bring a religious agenda to their secular job in government, should be in office.


Demtrius, your argument is flawed. Of course Jesus doesn't mention abortion literally, yet we know that the direct taking of an innocent human life is deplorable. In fact, he also never mentions genocide, armed robbery, rape, beating your wife, etc. Come to think of it, He also doesn't mention a universal right to taxpayer funded government run healthcare.

If you choose to look, you will find that our nation alone is filled with women's crisis shelters and clinics run and funded by generous pro-life Catholics, non-Catholics and non-Christians alike. We care about the person from conception to natural death. We are not JUST focused on the fetus, but it is our duty to speak out when the fetus is being slaughtered in the womb and when we are being forced to pay for it.

For those who like to cry Separation of Church and State (not found anywhere in the constitution), do you have issue when the bishops speak out in favor of rights for illegal immigrants, or when it spoke out against the war in Iraq? Do you take issue when President Obama quotes scripture to defend a position when he finds it convenient?


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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