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The Pelosi House

225-220.

[L]ives are what’s at stake in this debate, and moments like this are why they sent us here — to finally meet the challenges that Washington has put off for decades; to make their lives better and this nation stronger; to move America forward. That’s what the House did last night when it brought us closer than we have ever been to comprehensive health insurance reform in America.

After many months of work and a long Saturday of debate (not to mention quite a few flagrant and ridiculous GOP lies along the way), the Houses passes the Affordable Health Care for America Act 220-215. (Joining 219 Dems was one solitary Republican, Anh Joseph Cao of William Jefferson’s old seat, and he voted after the bill had already crossed the 218 threshold.) And, much thanks to the people who have fought for it all this time, H.R. 3962 passed the House with the public option bloodied but still intact.

Alas, the skeleton at the feast was a successful gambit by the heretofore unknown pro-lifer Rep. Bart Stupak to use the necessity of health care reform to fundamentally alter the status quo on abortion. (Best tweet of the day, btw: “‘Stupak’ sounds like a political action committee for morons.”)

Stupak forces like to say they’re just upholding existing law with this amendment, which already states that federal funds will not be used to pay for abortions. But, in fact, this amendment goes further — it prohibits not only the public option but private insurance companies who operate in the exchange from offering abortion services to people who receive subsidies. Or, in other words, low-income women are going to be S.O.L. for starters, with mission creep ultimately denying more and more women reproductive choice and/or necessary medical procedures. (Stupak to women — don’t miscarry.)

On one hand, the good news is that Stupak’s gambit is pretty much dead in the water in the Senate — even the GOP isn’t warming to it. (And, while maintaining the usual “above-the-fray approach”for now — big surprise, I know — Obama has telegraphed he’s not a supporter of the idea.)

On the other, the Stupak situation shows one of the problems we now have as the majority party. Here we have a scion of the “Family” on C-Street playing shenanigans with critical Democratic legislation at the eleventh hour…and he was joined by 63 other Dems in getting the amendment passed. In fact, many of these look to be CYA votes by ostensible pro-choicers to shore up their moderate bona fides.

Even more troubling, 21 of the final 39 Democratic votes against health care reform voted for Stupak — i.e., they voted to screw up a bill they had absolutely no intention of supporting in the end. (Conversely, twenty Dems in GOP-leaning districts did the right thing — they voted against Stupak and for passage. They are listed here.) Simply put, these 21 are why primary challenges were invented.

Until congressional Democrats learn that bucking their left is just as — if not more — dangerous than prostrating themselves before the right, they’re going to continue to play these reindeer games. (To be clear, in almost all cases, it’s not like these holdouts’ issues with the bill came from the left.) And until these often craven middle-of-the-roaders feel the wrath of the stick as well as the carrot, we are going to remain locked in this dismal feedback loop where important bills are in danger of being endlessly watered down into “moderate” mush. (See also: no Single Payer, no Medicare +5.) And that’s just not change we can believe in.

Aside from the Recovery Act, the House hasn’t held as important a vote all year. And, if certain Dems can’t find a way to support critical Democratic legislation — legislation tempered to meet their approval, in fact — when the time comes, then don’t expect the progressive base to have their back just because they have a D by their name. The time to suffer such fools has passed.

In any event, Round 1 completed. Round 2, the Senate…

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