When former nine-term Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) first took his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993, he brought two unshakable principles with him — a firm belief in the sanctity of human life, and a conviction that health care should be a right for all Americans, not just a privilege for the fortunate few.
But could those twin principles be irreconcilable?
Stupak attempts to answer that question in his book, FOR ALL AMERICANS: The Dramatic Story Behind the Stupak Amendment and the Historic Passage of Obamacare (Covenant Books/$36.93 hardcover; Amazon Digital Services, $9.99 on Kindle), 384 pages.
The former U.P. lawmaker (he also served a term in the Michigan House of Representatives in 1989-90) has been barnstorming the state for the past couple of weeks promoting his tome, autographing sold copies, and giving interviews about the subject of his work, which is Stupak’s pivotal role in passage of the Affordable Care Act aka “Obamcare,” in March of 2010 during his final year in Congress.
One stop on Stupak’s Grand Tour was an appearance before the Michigan Political History Society on Thursday, Oct. 26, in the State Library two blocks west of the state capitol. TheBallengerReport.com was the only media presence at the event. Here is what Stupak said in his opening remarks, plus his answers to a couple of questions from the audience:
“(It’s great to see) the Eternal General, Frank Kelley. Thanks for being here … My wife, Laurie, is also here, wearing the Michigan State/Frank Kelley/Soapy Williams green … and she has been my longtime editor (for the book) … I like to call her a co-author even though she doesn’t want me to say that … I’m here tonight to talk about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), how it came into being, and actually the FUTURE of the Affordable Care Act … My life experience has been growing up in the rural, small town Upper Peninsula, being raised in a large Catholic family … As we say in the family, my father was six weeks shy of being a priest … so I can say I’m living proof that he didn’t make it … Around the dinner table, my dad always had a social justice/political question for us to ponder He was really active in local politics. He always wanted to be in the state House or state Senate, (but he) never had an opportunity with a large family on a school teacher’s salary … I learned a lot from my father … Later (in Washington), during those 15 months (in 2009-10) my staff saw all the work we put into trying to make the Affordable Care Act a reality, and the dilemma I found myself in of being a Right to Life Democrat. I had always believed … for the past 32 years that the federal government does not pay for abortions … and that’s the way I’d always voted (during my) 20 years in office, and then, the flip side of it, if my issue was health care, how could I deny access to health care to some people? … 45,000 people die every year because they don’t have access to quality, affordable health care. That’s one every 12 minutes die because they don’t have health care. So I explained to everybody, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and the members of the (House) Energy and Commerce Committee, please, please don’t bring abortion into this. You will destroy (the bill). You will prevent health care reform from ever passing. But despite my pleas, they would not listen … So staffers said to me, “You’ve really got to write your story.” So I did discuss (doing that) with a very respected lawyer in Washington, D.C… He knew I was going to retire, so he said “Look, you had a role in passing health care, but you really don’t have a following … and the public really isn’t going to care about your role (on this issue) … ” So, I said “OK, well, that puts an end to any talk about a book …” So I went up to Harvard, on a fellowship, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do … I had been in Congress 18 years — the longest-serving Congressman from Northern Michigan ever (because) most Congressman (from up there) serve for only 10 or 12 years [Editor’s note: Stupak has served the longest among those Congressmen who represented the U.P. in its “modern” incarnation beginning in 1965, but he had only three predecessors — Democrat Ray Clevenger (two years) and Republicans Phil Ruppe (a dozen years) and Bob Davis (14 years). If you’re counting Upper Peninsula men (and they are all men) who have served longer than Stupak, there was Republican W. Frank James (R-Hancock), who served 10 terms from 1915-1934, longer than Stupak. And, of course, “Northern Michigan” is more than just the U.P.] … I just couldn’t keep going at that pace. At the time I left Congress, (what is now the 1st) district had 32 counties, and because of gerrymandering it went from Leelanau County and Traverse City all the way down to the Saginaw Co. line so it’s 600 miles from the Saginaw line up to Copper Country. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I got burned out .. So I went up to Harvard to do a fellowship at the Kennedy School, and after that I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I always wanted to write a book, but I thought it would be about my days in the state police on an investigation I did here in Lansing. I actually got hurt, I was working on a case, that’s what forced my retirement (from law enforcement) … That was always the book I believed I would write … Then I watched the first anniversary of the ACA, I did a couple of interviews … I saw and listened to a bunch of other interviews that people gave, and quite frankly, they were wrong, they really didn’t know what was going on. A lot it was false. I got really frustrated, I got mad. I’m a policy wonk, so I wrote a chapter (just for myself) on the investigation we did on rescinding individual policies … We did interviews with CEOs trying to get them to stop rescinding policies except for material fraud, and I’d ask them: “If we pass comprehensive health care, would you stop doing it then?” and they’d say “Well, if it’s the law, yes.” So I could see they were going to continue to do it unless (the Congress) passed a law (to stop it) … So, in 2015, Harvard came to me and said, “We want to do a case study on you. We really like what you have to say, the values you brought in the discussion on the ACA, and the struggle you had with it, how to reconcile these things. We like to do these case studies on ethics, and it’s usually about the death penalty, but that’s old and worn out. Would you work with us on a case study on something new?” … I said “Yes” and, well, it ended up being about 30 pages, and everything they said or they asked me I could back up with my documents … They were amazed at that. At the same time, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) came to me because they were in Washington doing interviews for a documentary they were going to call “The Obama Years.” They were going to release it in Europe, and Part II of the documentary was on health care … So they came and saw me , once, and twice, and then three times, and when I told them what I knew they said, “Well, that’s not what this person said, or that Congressman said, or …” So, I said, “Here’s the documents.” And one time they said “Barack said this,” and I said “That’s totally wrong …”… So they went back to London and they usually don’t do this, but they transcribed the three interviews that they conducted with me, and they sent them to me with this note “We hope we can encourage you to write your own remarkable story; you tell it so well.” So that was about the spring of 2015 … and then they sent me a (film) clip, this was part of their Part II on health care with Rahm Emanuel. Rahm was Obama’s first chief of staff (and now Mayor of Chicago). And in the clip Rahm says: “The executive order — Yup, Bart Stupak and I negotiated that. He sat right there, I sat here. We had a coffee table in between us and one afternoon we worked it out really good, for two non-lawyers.” Well, I’ve been a lawyer for 38 years, and Rahm was never in the room. Rahm had nothing to do with it. But that’s the way things are going in Washington, D.C. When the ACA was doing well, people were taking credit for it. When it’s doing bad, it’s someone else’s fault. So nobody was telling the real story. So I spent August of ’15 on Mackinac Island, and we wrote a lot and I keep working at night and on week-ends, here in Michigan and when I’m in D.C. at the Venable law firm. I write and write and write, and give it to my editor in chief … and Laurie (helped me with the) organization, and we finally had a manuscript … So it’s supposed to take 30 or 40 tries to get a publisher, but (in my case) the fourth one jumped at it, so that felt pretty good. The publishers who turned me down all said this: Very well-written, very interesting, but here’s your problem — if you’re not on the right, and you’re not on the left, no one cares … I said, “Well, I’m gonna do it anyways” … The reviews on Amazon.com have really been kind to me. So the book sales have going pretty good, and we’ve been on a little mini-book tour, Laurie and I. We were in Charlevoix Monday night, Traverse City, last night we were at Western Michigan (University) … and Tuesday we’re gonna be back up at Harvard … where I’ll also teach a couple of classes. And we’re discussing it with Fordham University, where they want me to come talk to the theology class. The conflict I have with wanting to protect the sanctity of life … while trying to achieve universal health care, how do I reconcile that? So several of the Catholic universities want to talk to me. So it’s coming along, it’s going to take some time. … So if you read the book, write a review on Amazon.com. They tell me you have to get 25 reviews online for the book stores to start carrying it … (Describing how the bill passed), let me mention that the bi-partisan Congressional Right to Life Caucus had about 225 members when I was there. There were probably 35 of us Democrats you could count on. Throughout my career, and since the Hyde Amendment was approved back in the 1970s, no legislation concerning life issues could pass without the support of Democrats. So (you can’t say) the Republican Party owns this issue. They don’t. If that was the case, they could have passed (a lot of things) a long time ago … It’s the law of the land that a woman has the right to an abortion, but not necessarily that there is a right for the public to pay for it. .. There’s also the (separate) REPUBLICAN Right to Life caucus … but when it comes to the Democrat Right to Life Caucus, in 2004, Jim Oberstar (D-MN), who was the head of it, he stepped aside and asked me to take it over and since I’d been doing most of the work on these issues, I said I would. So, in that group, 19 of us signed a letter, and several other members wrote their own individual letters, and we said “Make sure there’s no mention of abortion in this, or it’ll kill it.” We never got a response from the (Democratic) leadership. But in the 189 Bi-Partisan Right to Life group, 189 of us signed a letter (saying “Don’t do this!”), and, remember, it took 218 votes for a bill to pass. Again, we got no response… And then, in the end, it’s all in the book, but in the conference committee meeting on the bill, where I was the senior Democrat, Rep. Lois Capps from California (a Democrat) brings up the amendment to have the ACA pay for abortions, and we lose by a vote or two … Next up was an amendment offered by the Republicans, Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, and he says to me, “I’m offering the amendment but I’m deferring to you — it’s going to be the Stupak amendment. because you have more credibility, especially on your side, so you run the amendment. We ran the amendment, we beat it. We win, and then you see Chairman (Henry) Waxman (D-CA), who says “I move to reconsider the vote” which based on parliamentary procedure he had a right to do, and one person changed their vote … and they beat us. So that was July … and I remember walking back to the house I shared with some other members on C Street, with my buddy Mike Doyle (D-PA) who lived next door, and I said to him, “Mike, I don’t know how we’re gonna do it, but this battle isn’t over.” He looked to me and said: “There’s nowhere to go. We’ve lost. Forget it.” So I became a one-man whip team, and what I did was I instructed the staff to go through a list of about 75-80 members that I gave them, and some of them are the most liberal members you could imagine., but when it came to the issue of the Hyde amendment, which basically said “The federal government will not urge or pay for an abortion” they always voted “Yes” even though they were big liberals and are considered pro-choice. We did our homework. We worked this list for months, and talked to all the members on it. And the only promise I made was that we would never disclose to the media who they were. And I never did. And I finally forced Nancy’s hand, and she had to give me my amendment. We passed (our version) and sent it over to the Senate. But we only got 45 out of the 60 votes we needed in the Senate, and so we lost the amendment .. And so, you’re right, there were only seven of us at the end (in the House, for my amendment). They’d picked off everybody … And when it came time for (an accompanying) executive order (from President Obama) they tried to run it without me … They twisted arms, they called everybody into Speaker Pelosi’s office, but (the small number of members who stuck with me) didn’t budge. They trusted me .. I stopped the book on March 21, the night (Obamacare passed) … I had to end it somewhere…
[Editor’s note: Later, Stupak would say in a March 27, 2010, interview: “I and other pro-life Democrats struck an agreement with President Obama to issue an executive order that would ensure all Hyde Amendment protections would apply to the health care reform bill. No, an executive order is not as strong as the statutory language we fought for at the start. We received, however, an ‘ironclad’ commitment from the President that no taxpayer dollars would be used to pay for an abortion … Remember, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order … Obama’s EO put the president’s weight behind specific measures to ensure that funds are properly segregated by strict payment and accounting requirements so that abortion dollars are not commingled with private money used to fund abortions in an insurance plan.” Nevertheless, some abortion foes — but not all — claim Stupak essentially traded his vote for a handful of beans. They point to the confession he had to make two years later: “I am perplexed and disappointed that, having negotiated the EO with the president, not only does the Health and Human Services Department mandate (to allow taxpayer-funded contraception, including abortion-enhancing drugs) violate the EO but it also violates statutory law.” It should be noted that Stupak helped fight the HHS maneuver in court (in the Hobby Lobby case), where he and pro-life forces emerged victorious.]
If I had to re-write Obamacare right now, what would I do? First of all, stabilize the markets, and even though it looks like we have a bi-partisan coalition of 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Senate to do that — you could take all 48 of the Democrats and the 12 Republicans if it was allowed to come to a vote — the (Republican) leadership won’t allow it. That’s why I say the Senate is where good legislation goes to die. Next, the individual mandate must (continue to) be part of (any version of ACA), and it must be enforced. The current president says we’re not going to enforce it. Young people aren’t signing up for health care, and Trump (basically is saying) why should they have to pay (a fine), they don’t think they need it … But everybody has to (to be in the pool to) pay for it. If they’re not, you’re just going to have to shift the cost (of paying for Obamacare) to somebody else … Next, require the secretary of HHS to negotiate lower drug prices … I would also favor … ending the special exemption for insurance companies from federal anti-trust laws (Editor’s note: repeal the McCarren-Ferguson Act of 1945). In the beginning, I said that the best thing we could do on health care would be to simply expand Medicare and Medicaid .. and we could allow everybody to buy into the insurance plans we have for federal employees. Instead, the Congress thought we could have a plan like they do in Massachusetts, where (Mitt) Romney was governor. Remember, he was running for president, and the Senate thought, “Well, we’ll use Massachusetts as a model and that’s how we can get a bi-partisan bill.” How did that work out? The (original) House bill had a part of it that included the public option, and it had some bi-partisan support (but it was taken out) … We shouldn’t forget that 56% or 57% of Americans are already on government insurance — that’s what they have and they don’t realize it. You mention “Medicare” and they say “That’s not government insurance; that’s Medicare” …