On Wednesday, members of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the National Abortion Federation, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and the ACLU lobbied on Capitol Hill against the Stupak amendment that prohibits any woman who receives government health insurance subsidies from enrolling in an insurance plan that covers abortion. Meanwhile, the prominent blogger Jane Hamsher has launched a national phone bank campaign to target districts of the representatives who voted for the amendment. [includes rush transcript]
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JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Capitol Hill, where the Senate is entering day four of its debate on reforming the nation’s healthcare system. Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska is expected to introduce an amendment as early as today that would add strict anti-abortion language into the bill. Nelson has said his amendment will mirror the controversial language included in the House bill sponsored by Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan.
Supporters of reproductive rights have condemned the Stupak amendment because it prohibits any woman who receives government health insurance subsidies from enrolling in an insurance plan that covers abortion. In addition, abortions won’t be covered under the proposed government-run insurance plan.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, members of Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women, NARAL, the National Abortion Federation and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, as well as the ACLU, lobbied on Capitol Hill against the Stupak amendment.
Meanwhile, the prominent blogger Jane Hamsher has launched a national phone bank campaign to target districts of the representatives who voted for the anti-abortion Stupak amendment. The campaign is called “One Voice for Choice.” Jane Hamsher joins us now from Washington, DC, founder of the blog FireDogLake.com.
Jane, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain what this campaign is all about, and in the process, exactly explain what the Stupak amendment is and whether you think it will be included in the Senate bill.
JANE HAMSHER: Well, the Stupak amendment, it was introduced by Bart Stupak, a congressman who began on July the 1st of this year getting signatures from fellow anti-choice members of the Democratic Party in the House to be able to keep any abortion funding out of the healthcare bill. But he went much further than that. That’s already the law of the land. That’s the Hyde Amendment. But he went much further than that, and they say that no insurance company offering insurance on the exchange, whether it’s funded with government money or not, can offer elective abortion coverage. And that threatens to take away abortion coverage from just about any insurance policy, because even the private insurance plans for reinsurance of big companies that have their employees insured can be affected by it, because money for that is provided under the plan.
Ben Nelson will introduce an amendment, but he would have to get sixty votes in the Senate — or, I’m sorry, he’d be able — yeah, I think you have to get sixty votes in the Senate in order to be able to get it into the bill. So I don’t really think that it’s going to be in the Senate bill. However, Nancy Pelosi has privately been telling people that she can’t pass a bill in the House without it. So, even though Diana DeGette got a letter of forty-one members of the House to say they would vote against any bill that didn’t have one, the fact is that she had that letter before the last vote, and all of them did vote for it. Furthermore, they won’t say who their names are on that letter, and it’s been my experience as someone who’s run these kinds of whips before that unless those names are public, these people have — feel like there’s nothing that they’re accountable to, and in the end they’ll do it.
So we took a look at the sixty-four members of the Democratic Party who were the ones who voted for the Stupak amendment, and we looked at what was going on and thought, well, how can we micro-target them in order to be able to use the leverage that we can create by people having phone banks and calling into their districts in order to be able to affect them? You’re looking at people who are very scared about the 2010 election. They are in close districts. They feel like they have to appeal to Republicans in their districts in order to get votes. And they’re voting for the Stupak amendment because they think that it will make them more popular in 2010.
What we’re saying is that there’s a flaw in that equation, because if you look in Virginia, depressed Democratic turnout — if Democrats don’t want to turn out, then that’s going to be the biggest problem for Democratic members of Congress. They need Democrats to turn out. And many were elected in 2006 and 2008, when Democratic turnout was high across the board. Now we’re looking at a three-to-one enthusiasm gap in favor of the Republicans for the 2010 election.
So what we’re doing is we have taken sophisticated micro-targeting techniques in order to be able to identify likely voters in the 2010 election in their districts who are going to be pro-choice, and we’re calling into the districts, phone banking in, and saying, “Do you know what the Stupak amendment really does?” because many of these members of Congress are explaining their vote as if they were voting for the Hyde Amendment, which simply bans the use of federal funds for abortions. And we want to have their names put on a letter to their member of Congress saying, we really don’t want you to be using the Stupak language as a litmus test. And if we can get enough members to do that, then we can collapse Bart Stupak’s hand, and he can’t hold the bill hostage anymore.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Jane Hamsher, what are some of the districts or the members of Congress that you’re targeting in this campaign?
JANE HAMSHER: Well, we’re targeting — I would say that, in the end, I believe that Stupak only delivered between three and six votes, despite his claim that he delivered twenty-five. But we don’t think that anybody needs — should be out of reach of pro-choice supporters in their districts, the loyal Democrats who show up year after year in order to keep these — put these people in office in the first place, but keep them in office. So you’re talking everybody from Lynch in Massachusetts to Ciro Rodriguez, who ran as a pro-choice candidate in Texas, Ortiz, Cuellar. In California, you’ve got Costa, you’ve got Cardoza, Joe Baca. There’s a pretty good list across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: And Jane Hamsher, how much support do you have from the other women’s rights groups on "Voice for Choice," on this direct targeting? I mean, it was a major coalition of women’s rights groups yesterday that held a news conference in Washington to deal with this issue.
JANE HAMSHER: The choice groups, we have had absolutely no support for. In fact, they — Planned Parenthood actively blackballed us. They bought ads on Daily Kos and other blogs across the blogosphere, but they left out us and the feminist blogs that are working with us. They really let the — dropped the ball.
You know, we began our campaign for the public whip — the public option whip count effort on June 23rd. And we, at that time, worked very hard with just ordinary people, our readers, calling members of Congress to get sixty-five commitments to vote against the bill if it didn’t have a public option. But we started that in late June, and so that became a factor in how they figured what they had to put in the bill to pass it. The fact is that you can’t run a campaign like that, which is what they’re running right now, at the end of the race, unless you’re ready to take the bill down, and they’re quite frankly not. Those members all voted for the bill when it came up last time. So it’s not a credible threat.
I think that the strategy that the groups are relying on is faulty. They were the ones who cut a deal with leadership on June 23rd that fell through. They’re not holding leadership to that. And primarily right now, they’re engaged in fundraising and list building. But these are the same groups who endorsed Joe Lieberman after he cast his vote for Samuel Alito to be on the Supreme Court in cloture. Lincoln Chafee did the same thing, and NARAL put Lincoln Chafee on their board. So I think that we’re looking at some groups that have become way to close to the Democratic establishment. They’ve looked the other way, in order that the Democrats have a big tent and, you know, accept all these members into their caucus who are actively anti-choice, and many of them in strong Democratic districts in Massachusetts, in Ohio, not the marginal states that they like to pretend. And we think that they need to focus more on doing things that work rather than doing things that get a lot of publicity.
AMY GOODMAN: Jane Hamsher, if you could stay with us, we’re going to break, and we want to just get a quick update from you, overall, on the healthcare legislation in the House and the Senate and where it’s going. Jane Hamsher, founder of the blog FireDogLake.com. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We stay the last few minutes with Jane Hamsher before going on to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Bhopal. Jane Hamsher, founder of the blog FireDogLake.com, has launched the campaign "One Voice for Choice." But the larger bill, Jane, explain where it stands now in the House and the Senate, the healthcare reform bill, and where the public option stands and what exactly it looks like in both, in the House and Senate.
JANE HAMSHER: Well, in the House right now, they’ve just passed a bill with the public option. It’s a weakened bill that isn’t available as widely as anyone would like, but they did pass it. The Senate bill has, against all odds, a public option in it that has opt-outs for states. That was what Harry Reid introduced, so that states which have Republican governments and legislatures can opt their states out.
But it looks like it’s going to get worse this week. Privately, people in the Senate are confirming that Harry Reid is going to try and cut a deal for triggers, which is something that the White House has been pushing for, Rahm Emanuel, since January of this year. They’ve wanted it all along. They’ve said they wanted the public option, but what they’ve worked for is triggers. And we always knew that this was, you know, probably going to be the lay of the land.
Stupak, I believe, will make it into a conference report. As you know, after the Senate and House pass a bill, they go into conference and have to merge the two bills. And because Nancy Pelosi is saying she can’t pass a bill without Stupak, I believe that whether Ben Nelson is successful in getting it into the Senate bill or not, I believe that it will be in the final bill that comes out of conference.
And so, that’s why I would encourage people to phone bank with us to join — to go to FireDogLake.com and sign up to either host a phone bank or be — or join a phone bank in your area.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Jane, how would the triggers work, if Reid does decide to go that route?
JANE HAMSHER: Well, since we haven’t seen the legislation yet, we don’t know. But usually, if you look at like Medicare Part D, triggers are written to never work. They also made their way into the immigration bill. It’s a way of saying, “Hey, don’t we intend to do something wonderful that we’ll just never do?” And it’s a palliative. It’s a sleight of hand.
And the fact is that the White House cut these deals over the summer with all the stakeholders, the insurance companies, the drug companies, and they have intended to follow through on them in order to keep the donations and the lobbying money out of the pockets of the Republicans in 2010. So they are going to try and jam triggers through, and I believe that, at the end of the day, we’ll be in a situation where we will be asking those members of the House that we got to commit to vote against any bill that doesn’t have a public option in it to vote against this bill.
AMY GOODMAN: Jane Hamsher, Senator Lieberman, from the insurance state of Connecticut, has said the “public option plan is unnecessary. It has been put forward, I’m convinced, by people who really want the government to take over all of health insurance.”
JANE HAMSHER: Well, you know, Medicare is a very popular program, and Joe Lieberman takes — has taken more money than — I believe, than almost anybody in the Senate from insurance companies: $1.2 million over the course of his political career.
But, you know, the fact is that the public wants a public option. They do not want to be at the mercy of insurance companies, being forced to pay money every month to the same insurance companies that are turning them down and finding ways not to cover the things that are wrong with them. And Harry Reid actually has it at his disposal to go to reconciliation and make Joe Lieberman’s vote not count. If he doesn’t do that, if he doesn’t want to do that, you have to ask, why, if he supports a public option, is he not doing that?
JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the Obama administration’s ability to hamper or disarm the progressive movement, what you have often criticized as “the veal pen”? Could you talk about that?
JANE HAMSHER: They’ve been very skillful at the White House in getting the large liberal interest groups, I would say, to be inert in advocating for progressive change. During the time that we saw the AIG bonus scandal becoming front and center, the bankers went to the White House, and they said, “We don’t want to be criticized anymore,” so the White House made it very clear to the interest groups that they didn’t want any criticism of the bankers, and particularly not Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, coming out at them.
And that was at the time that the teabag movement was really starting to get going. So all the discontent at the bank bailout, that should have been a progressive issue, but the progressive validaters were silent on it at the time, at the behest of the White House. And so, all of that energy, all of that discontent that the money is going to the banks instead of creating jobs in this country, went to the teabaggers, went to the right, and now we’re seeing the enthusiasm that they’ve been able to build off of that. So, you know, that’s just one example of what happens when the liberal interest groups do what the White House wants when the White House is actively pursuing a neoliberal agenda.
I think we’re starting to see them shake that off. The AFL-CIO has been very good in the fight for the public option. MoveOn has really stepped forward. You know, there are still quite a few — the choice groups are probably the worst. The environmental groups are right down there. But we’re starting to see some of them break free as they realize that their interests aren’t necessarily aligned with what Rahm Emanuel is trying to do.
AMY GOODMAN: And why the veal pen, Jane?
JANE HAMSHER: It was Douglas Coupland in Generation X, used it to describe these cubical warriors who just got their food sent in and lived their lives there. And President Obama and the White House have been very good at protecting themselves from criticism from the left by keeping these liberal interest groups content with cocktail parties and access and, you know, donors that they are able to turn on and turn off when these groups do what they like or what they don’t like.
And that’s why — one of the challenges that a real progressive institution faces when they are trying to be able to advocate, you know, purely for a progressive agenda is finding a financial structure that won’t make them subject to this. And that’s one of the great things about the blogs. It is because our money doesn’t come from those sources, generally, so we can be independent. We rely on our donors, our donor support. Our members, you know, are the people who read us coming and supporting us and being part of things like phone banks. And we don’t have to worry that George Soros will cut off our money if the White House calls him.
AMY GOODMAN: Jane Hamsher, we want to thank you very much for being with us, founder of the blog FireDogLake.com.