It appears that Bart Stupak is in fact retiring, after a year of getting it from both sides in one of the most polarizing political debates in the country. For much of his career, Stupak was a rare pro-life standout in the Democratic Party and until the very end he seemed poised to force major concessions or defeat the health care bill outright. So why did he cave?
A lot of people will wonder whether there was some kind of quid pro quo and there will be considerable attention to where Stupak lands once he has departed from Congress. But based on his public statements and some talks I’ve had with people, I think the answer is a simple as this: The economic liberal in Stupak simply lacked the stomach to kill the health care bill.
All along, I believe Stupak thought it would come down to this: If he had the votes to defeat the bill when it was brought up on the House floor, he thought the House leadership and the Obama administration would once again give him the abortion language he wanted. If he didn’t have the votes to stop the bill, he and whatever Stupak Democrats remained could vote against it without keeping it from passing. You’ll note that the last substantive compromise he nearly negotiated the weekend the bill ended up passing would have put the onus on pro-choice Democrats, especially in the Senate, to kill the whole bill if they didn’t like the Stupak Amendment.
But that last-ditch effort was frustrated by threatened defections by pro-choice Democrats and the leadership essentially decided to call Stupak’s bluff. When faced with the actual option of being responsible for the bill’s defeat, Stupak and his colleagues couldn’t go through with it. The executive order was window dressing to make them feel better and also to make it seem less absurd that they had tied up the health care bill for so long only to fold at the end. The sad reality is that the pro-choice liberals had up to that point shown they were much more likely to back down than the Stupak Democrats, so Stupak might have prevailed had he stuck to his guns.