Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Coakley on "kill the bill" side

Martha Coakley does deserve credit, I suppose. Rather than run a play-it-safe campaign typical of a front-runners, I have to agree with Massachusetts Liberal that Coakley certainly embraced risk by saying she'd have voted against the health care reform bill. Her vote isn't against health care reform, but rather the Stupak Amendment that would prohibit funding of abortion as part of this system:

Attorney General Martha Coakley said yesterday that she opposes the landmark health care bill approved by the House Saturday because it contains a provision restricting federal funding for abortion.
She explained her judgment that

Fighting for women’s access to abortions was more important than passing the overall bill.
The Stupak Amendment wouldn't end access to abortions, though it would probably narrow it. Abortion providers (such as Planned Parenthood facilities) could still offer the procedure in private practice under the Stupak-ed reform. Given that many Midwestern states count less than half a dozen abortion providers, that practice is already under threat. The end result would be fewer, and less accessible abortion providers.

Meanwhile, the bill which it amended would open access to health care to an unprecedented extent in American history. It would slide through a narrow, historic, window of political opportunity -- a Democratic President and Congress spending massive political capital to enact an idea that is standard practice in the industrialized world and was first proposed in this country in 1912. Millions of people would have the access to prevetitive and theraputic care they need.

Let's be clear about this -- a no vote on this health care package in the House would have killed health care reform for another generation. Bill Clinton didn't even get that far and it was 16 years before someone took a kick at the can. Voters who elected Democrats to make it happen would be disillusioned, and the next window of opportunity would likely be in the far future. Instead, Coakley would sacrifice it in the name of abortion access at the same vote when battle-hardened Democratic women such as Maxine Waters kept the push on. I suppose in Coakley's ideal world she could stand on these principles while hard-charging activists for women's rights fold in the name of progress.

I could almost understand Coakley's statement were this the final vote on the bill. But with health care reform still to go through the Senate and conference (where the Stupak Amendment is likely to die) it is a bit early to finish off the bill. Again, this is the furthest that a public health care regime has ever gotten, and I'm amazed that Coakley would be ready to kill it so far from the finish line. It's like giving up on a losing football game at halftime, and refusing to retake the field.

Update: Mike Capuano is showing his experience in Congress by refusing to announce how he'll vote on the final bill...possibly because the final bill doesn't exist yet. Capuano, unlike Coakley, did what he could and what he had to do in order to advance health care to the next -- not final -- stage. For this high-stakes high-wire act, promises are best made by those uninterested or powerless over the consequences. With Capuano, the fight for health care lives another day. With too many like Coakley, it would be dead.

PS: At the end of the day, I think it comes down to not just what is more important (better access to abortion, or any access to health care for millions) but what is more likely (a pro-choice Congress and president building abortion provision into the system post facto, or getting a second go at heath care this decade).


Ryan said...

I for one don't think for a second Coakley would have said what she initially did had she been the Congressperson and Capuano been the AG. It's too easy to grandstand and lash out at votes that are easily misunderstood by the public. I for one think it's piss-poor politics.

James Patrick Conway said...

Gotta agree with you and Ryan.

This statement in particular is quite problematic

"Fighting for women’s access to abortions was more important than passing the overall bill."

Not only is a woman's basic access to abortion NOT threatened by Stupak, albeit curtailed slightly, but she is also saying abortion>health care. The thing is abortion is never going to go away, I say this as someone on the pro-life side of the debate, Roe is law and its not going away. But health care reform is urgently needed to become law and we won't have another moment like this for awhile, especially if it died and the President was handed such a big defeat. It was amateur hour over at the Coakley campaign and it shows why she is not yet fit to be a Senator.