Heard on the Hill

Stupak Shares Insider Look at Obamacare Debate in New Book

In a timely release, Michigan Democrat recalls his amendment that saved bill

Former Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak has a new book on his experiences during the 2010 health care law debate. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Rep. Bart Stupak didn’t plan the release of his new book on his crucial vote for the 2010 health care law to coincide with the current debate over repealing it. 

“Timing was fortuitous,” the Michigan Democrat said. “I thought by now, the Republicans would have their bill done and there wouldn’t be a book.”

For All Americans: The Dramatic Story Behind the Stupak Amendment and the Historic Passage of Obamacare” is the story about the anti-abortion Catholic congressman’s tumultuous road to his eventual vote in favor of the health care bill.

“I would recommend every member of Congress read the book,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘I know what he means. Been there. I’m stuck right where he is.’”

He recalls dealing with then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who advised him to work within Congress to reach a compromise rather than rely on the White House.

Emanuel would characteristically “drop a bunch of F-bombs in there, too,” Stupak said.

The former congressman opposed the House Democrats’ original health care bill because of provisions to pay for abortions, until he was able to add the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which he wrote with former GOP Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. It prohibited the use of federal funds to pay for an abortion or parts of the cost except in the case rape, incest or danger to life.

It was adopted by the House in November 2009, but not included in the Senate’s version of the bill. 

During the arm-twisting and agonizing over the bill, Stupak said he spoke directly with President Barack Obama twice. They made a deal that Obama would issue an executive order to not allow abortion funding.

Stupak said Emanuel told the BBC last year that he sat with the Michigan congressman in a room and negotiated the executive order, noting that it was impressive because neither of them were lawyers.

But Stupak said he recalls meeting on the executive order with White House staff, including White House lobbyist Dan Turton, but not Emanuel. And the former congressman pointed out that, contrary to what Emanuel said, Stupak is a lawyer, having earned his J.D. from Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1981. He is currently a partner at Venable LLP.

On the night of passage, when Democrats headed to the White House to celebrate, he recalled instead going to have “a scotch with [former Rep.] David Obey on his porch, chairman of Appropriations.”

Stupak later decided against running for a tenth term from Michigan’s 1st District, but he didn’t leave Congress behind.

Shortly after leaving the Hill in 2011, he would be approached — sometimes even accosted — for his role in the bill’s passage.

When the Supreme Court in 2014 was hearing arguments in the Hobby Lobby case over the health care law mandate that employers cover certain contraceptives for female employees, he recalled getting “hate emails.”

“My secretary didn’t want to answer my phone, and let it go to voice message,” he said. His secretary wanted to erase the messages, he said, but he wanted to hear them.

And now?

“I haven’t had a death threat in two years,” the former police officer and state trooper casually said.

But “as soon as they read your article, they’ll start bitching at me again,” he said.

The seeds of the book were planted while he was participating in a Harvard fellowship after leaving Congress.

“When I was up there, I did an outline of a book and thought it would be interesting. I was mad at something in the news [and thought] that’s not right and I would write something,” he said. “I talked to a few people in D.C. and they said, ‘There is no book, forget about it.’”

“I talked to a few publishers and they said, ‘No, no, there isn’t a book here. Your book isn’t extreme right or extreme left so you have no audience,’” he recalled.

But then, he talked to Christian publishing company Covenant Books.

“They jumped on it,” Stupak said.

He said after reading his manuscript, the publishers said they were surprised by how bipartisan he was.

“Again, you have to understand, I was chair of the Congressional Right to Life Caucus, I was chair of the Democrats Right to Life Caucus,” he said. “Even at the end … I was working with [former Republican Sen.] Tom Coburn. [Nancy] Pelosi was against me, [former Sen. Harry] Reid wouldn’t even bring my amendment up. It’s really funny, Reid called me and said, ‘If you speak to the press, you and I never talked.’”

Stupak would like to see some bipartisanship now.

“All we’ve been hearing for the last seven years is [a] political slogan on health care. Maybe now we can get to the serious policy considerations,” he said. “Let’s have an honest debate on health care. Let’s try something different.”

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