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Why does Third Way oppose the Stupak amendment?

Third Way is a centrist Democratic group that's generally associated with calls for Democrats to compromise on divisive cultural issues, not aggressive efforts to reject compromises on divisive cultural issues. So their angry report on the Stupak compromise caught my eye. I called Rachel Laser, one of the report's co-authors, to discuss it.

Your report says that the Stupak amendment violates the principle of “abortion neutrality.” What is “abortion neutrality?”

An approach that doesn’t change the legality, availability, federal role or cost of abortion.

How does the Stupak amendment fail?

It changes the federal role, for a start. It goes beyond the Hyde amendment, which says that federal funds can’t be used for abortion. It effectively causes there to be no abortion coverage in the exchange, which bans you from using private premiums, which is unprecedented.

It also challenges long-standing policies regarding the segregation of funds. Even religious organizations are expected to be reliable in separating federal funds they receive from religious practice and proselytizing. The community service block grant says that religious organizations have to segregate those funds in a separate account from non-federal funds. If you apply the logic of the Stupak amendment, this system fails.

In fact, the logic of the Stupak-Pitts amendment not only rejects the segregation scheme, but also the scheme whereby federal dollars are consistently used to subsidize insurance through the employer tax exclusion, the subsidy for health savings accounts, and flexible spending account. Those programs cover abortions.

The big worry I’m hearing is that as the exchanges expand, we’ll end up with a market in which the norm is that insurance products don’t cover abortion, as opposed to the more limited situation in which they just don’t cover abortion for subsidized individuals.

The exchange is designed to expand every year. And even the people who would be in the exchange who won’t be receiving a federal subsidy won’t be able to use their private premiums to buy a plan with abortion coverage because no such plans will exist. It won’t be profitable for insurers to offer that plan if 80 percent of their potential clients can’t purchase it.

But then you say, what about supplemental coverage? Well, no one plans to have an unintended pregnancy, by definition. And proof to this is the fact that in the five states where abortion coverage is banned in insurance plans except through threes riders, there are very few cases of those supplemental plans being a force in the market.

What about the Ellsworth compromise?

The Ellsworth compromise leans towards the pro-life direction but maintains neutrality. When you look for common ground, you have to recognize each side’s piece of the truth. On the pro-choice side, the piece of the truth is that segregation of funds can work. We’ve done it in religious organizations and Medicaid. The piece of the truth on the pro-life side is that the new program rightly makes pro-life people nervous, it’s close to the line.

The reason Ellsworth is a good compromise is it maintains the segregation of funds but bolsters protections that support the pro-life perspective. It has a non-discrimination clause for the commissioner. It bars not only affordability subsidies, but all federal dollars, including those coming from other programs. It embraces all federal conscience laws, includes an explicit statement saying there’s no preemption of state regulations, and there’s a final piece that Ellsworth adds which says the public plan has to hire private contractors to segregate the funds, pay the abortion claims, and do the actual work, so the federal government never touches abortion.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 16, 2009; 5:25 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews  
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Abortion politics making their way into the health care reform bill was probably inevitable, but I imagine this white house feels like its trapped in something not unlike the Peloponnesian war with this in as much as it goes on forever, the same old gripes, which they've tried desperately to avoid all year long.

I'll really be glad when the Roberts court just strikes down Roe, and we can revert the matter to the states forever, come what may. Its distressing to have every political issue under the sun get mired into this ad infinitum.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 16, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

--"so the federal government never touches abortion."--

Laff laff. All the little cannibals squabbling over the contents of the cannibal pot.

But that's the trouble with government's never ending quest to squash sundry one-size-fits-all rottenesses upon the citizenry of the nation. It simply isn't possible to please everyone with any sort of politically arrived at decree (or cannibal soup), and that stupid, quaint, useless Constitution still says that people have a right to petition the dear elite to express their woes and wants, and the dear elite, still beholden, albeit most tenuously, to the ballot box, have to pretend to listen. And so everything is turned into a never ending *political* fight, when all people want is to either have abortion coverage or not have abortion coverage, to either have their schools include sex education or not, or teach creationism or not, and on and on, and so every new election win, the winners try to stomp around "governing" according to *their* faction's druthers, and hoping to get enough people dependent in the process that when the next bunch of busybodies get their mitts on power that they have a very hard time undoing things.

I blame both sides for this horrid state of affairs, but mostly I blame the dim, fanatical, airhead, valley girl left, who keep thinking of more and bigger things to turn over to politicians, never understanding why everything so turned over turns for the worse.

And fewer and fewer have even the foggiest notion that pleasing everyone, or nearly everyone, isn't some pie in the sky dream, but easily and naturally implemented by insisting that government get out of the way of people pursuing their own happinesses in their own ways.

Oh, and Third Way's contention that tax breaks are subsidies is utter, rank, nonsense. The money does not belong to the government. Being permitted to keep some of one's own money does not amount to receiving a subsidy. IT'S ONE'S OWN MONEY. For one thing, there is no actuarial set point or marker for taxation. Everyone's overall effective tax rate differs depending on all sorts of factors. Are people who donate to charity writing it off subsidized? Is Ezra Klein's write off for buying an overpriced house a subsidy? According to Third Way's sort of nonthinking, everyone not paying 100% in taxes is being subsidized the amount the government didn't take. It's nonsense, and since it's the basis of Third Way's argument (kindly highlighted by Klein) the whole shooting match is nonsense and a lie.

Get the government out of the health care business. Do it yesterday.

Posted by: msoja | November 16, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

So why, under the Ellsworth amendment, is it ok for federal dollars to pay who are not directly employed by government to handle the abortion claims, but not to pay government employees to handle them? Do the federal dollars undergo some sort of trans-substantiation as they pass through the private hands, thus enabling the claim the the federal government is not 'touching' abortion.

Geez Louise, these people are stupid.

Posted by: exgovgirl | November 16, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

No to Stupak. No to Ellsworth. No to making the Hyde amendment permanent. Civil rights are non-negotiable.

Posted by: bmull | November 17, 2009 12:27 AM | Report abuse

--"Civil rights are non-negotiable."--

It's a civil right to have an abortion on someone else's dime? It's not self evident. In fact, it's an absurd contention.

Posted by: msoja | November 17, 2009 12:48 AM | Report abuse

General Pogo Possum opined correctly at the battle of Okeefenokee, "We have met the enemy and he is us". We will take up arms over these issues and blood will run. Not for merit but because the herd needs thinned and the creed honed.

Posted by: BertEisenstein | November 17, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

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