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

March 16, 2010 | 10:07 am

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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