Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) – Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) was noncommittal on whether he will oppose the Democrats’ health care bill if it does not include language barring federal funding for health insurance plans that cover elective abortion.
When asked if he agreed with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that the Senate health care bill should be opposed unless it is amended to prohibit federal funding of health-care plans that cover abortion, Casey, a Catholic, danced around the question on Thursday.
“The big goal here is to get a health care bill done,” he told CNSNews.com. He added that there are many reasons, having nothing to do with abortion, “why the bill should be passed.”
Casey said it should be done in a way that “respect[s] the conscience of those who are paying premiums that don’t want to have their dollars paying for abortion. I think we can get there,” Casey said, “but I’m not going—at least not today—comment on what a group (USCCB) is saying out there.”
CNSNews.com repeated the question: “Do you agree [the Senate health care bill] should be opposed without Hyde amendment language?”
Casey again refused to address the question, saying, “I think we should do everything possible to get a bill passed, and I think we can get there.”
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Casey mentioned the new government-run insurance exchanges that would be created by the bill.
“The difficulty here is we’ve never had an exchange before. It’s something we’ve never had to deal with.” There’s no model for it, he said – and that complicates the attempt to find “an appropriate compromise regarding the abortion debate in the Senate health care bill.”
“It really is question of what happens to tax dollars in the new exchange and what happens to premium dollars in the exchange,” Casey said.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, head of the USCCB, said on Dec. 9 that unless the Senate health care bill incorporates language that would explicitly prohibit taxpayer funding of health care plans that cover elective abortion, the bishops will have no choice but to oppose the bill. (See earlier story)
On Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Senate voted 54-45 to table an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) that would have applied the Hyde Amendment language to the Senate health care bill. And, like the amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in the House of Representatives, which passed in that chamber, Nelson’s proposal would have explicitly prohibited any federal money from paying for any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion.
The Senate health care bill as it currently stands requires the Health and Human Services secretary ensure that at least one health insurance plan in the government-run exchange—where people will use tax money to buy health insurance—cover elective abortion.
The Hyde Amendment, which has applied to federal health programs for over three decades, bars federal funds from being used for abortion. A part of the Hyde Amendment reads: (b) None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.
The USCCB, which speaks for approximately 300 active bishops in the United States, has sent several letters to members of Congress in recent months urging lawmakers to bar taxpayer-funding of abortion in health-care reform bills.
CNSNews.com: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have said that they will oppose the Senate health care bill unless it includes Hyde amendment language to bar federal funding of health plans that cover abortion. Do you agree with them that the plan [Senate health care bill] should be opposed unless it includes Hyde amendment language?
Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.: I’ve said from the beginning that I think we can accomplish both goals. The big goal here is to get a health care bill done, but also we want to do it in addition to all the other reasons that I’ve cited many, many times why the bill should be passed. Also do it in a way that continues that consensus and to respect the conscience of those who are paying premiums that don’t want to have their dollars paying for abortion. I think we can get there, but I’m not going—at least not today—comment on what a group is saying out there.
CNSNews.com: Do you agree it should be opposed without Hyde amendment language?
Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.: I think we should do everything possible to get a bill passed, and I think we can get there.