Whatever one thinks of Obamacare –and a significant majority of Americans think rightly that it should be rejected before it destroys American medicine– the small drama surrounding Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey Jr. is illustrative of why the blowback building against Democrats could assume tsunami proportions 48 weeks from now.
As the New York Times details today, Casey Jr.’s father was a very popular Democratic governor of Pennsylvania who was a staunchly pro-life. What the paper passes over is that Casey Jr. defeated Rick Santorum in 2006 by running as his father’s son on that issue. Casey Jr. pledged himself to be a staunch pro-life Democrat that Catholics and other pro-life voters in Pennsylvania could trust to uphold the state’s consensus that life in the womb is life indeed.
Now that abortion has become an issue in the health care debate, however, Casey Jr.’s commitment on the life issue is starting to melt. Key graphs from the Times:
Frank Cannon, a Republican consultant, published a column on the Web site of National Review suggesting that the late Mr. Casey would be watching and judging his son from above. “The governor’s son and namesake, the current junior senator from Pennsylvania, will be tested by the standard his father set,” Mr. Cannon wrote.
Mr. Casey took issue with such comparisons. “My father’s situation was a broader argument and broader discussion about the issue,” he said. “This is a huge piece of health care legislation, and what I am trying to do is to recognize that we had a consensus about public funding for abortion, and we are trying to continue that.”
Mr. Casey said he set his course on the issue last summer, when the question came before him in the Senate health committee. He broke with his party to vote in favor of an amendment adding the same abortion restrictions as the House bill. But when the amendment failed narrowly, he voted to approve the resulting bill anyway.
In a statement when the Senate opened debate last Saturday, he repeated that he thought the current segregated-accounts provisions still fell short of avoiding taxpayer financing of abortion and “will require more work as the bill is debated on the Senate floor.” But he again stopped short of threatening to vote against the measure as it is.
Of course he stopped short because of course Robert Casey Jr. will vote for cloture even if the bill contains public funding of abortion in bold letters and underlined. If public funding of abortion is the issue, Ben Nelson of Nebraska will be the lone Democrat holding back cloture.
Planned Parenthood is already snarling at Democrats who stray from their extreme line:
“I know he feels a lot of pressure from the Catholic bishops, but the bishops did not elect him and a lot of pro-choice women did,” said Laurie Rubiner, a lobbyist for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America who said she met with Mr. Casey for 45 minutes last month to make her case. “He needs to let the Catholic bishops know that what they are doing could bring down the bill.”
Casey will look for some fix that delivers for his party leadership and for Planned Parenthood, some complex override of the Stupak amendment that passed in the House. In so doing he’ll break his promises to the voters of Pennsylvania and hope they don’t remember that come 2012. Casey may even try the “yes on cloture/no on the bill” dodge on the hope that the voters won’t figure it out, though fewer and fewer Americans are sufficiently disconnected from new media to allow old tricks like that one to work.
Casey is going to have to choose between the pro-life promises he made the voters and his party bosses. He is in a position to insist on the Stupak Amendment. Robert Casey Jr. could deliver on his promise. He’s just not going to do so.
And that is another example of why Democrats are headed for a November 2010 cliff: They are throwing out promises left and right, promises like Casey’s on life, but also pledges that people who liked their health insurance and doctors could keep them, pledges about no new taxes on families earning less than $250,000 a year, pledges about not adding to the deficit, and especially pledges to seniors about not cutting their Medicare benefits.
ReverseTheVote.org has gathered close to $125,000 in small contributions in less than two weeks to retire the two dozen Democratic House members who voted for Obamacare against the wishes of their districts. This is just one of many signs of the growing voter revolt against Democrats who are playing craps with the nation’s health care. If the Senate actually gets close to passing Obamacre, the electoral prospects of Democrats like Lincoln in Arkansas, Bennet in Colorado, Dodd in Connecticut, Bayh in Indiana, Gillibrand in New York, Wyden in Oregon and Dorgan in North Dakota get very gloomy indeed. Even big names like Harry Reid and even Barbara Boxer in California are endangering their jobs by pushing forward with so unpopular and destructive a bill.
When the left’s ideology trumps all practical political considerations, the public notices and the public isn’t remotely as ideological as the left side of the Democratic Party wants it to be. The abortion issue is just one example, but a telling one. The rhetoric of Planned Parenthood aimed at the bishops is really hitting the Democrats, and collapses like Casey’s are telegraphs to the electorate about the unreliability of the “moderate” Democrats they thought they were voting for.
It is hard to imagine the Democrats doing this to themselves, except that the leadership of the party is all hard left and more concerned with their “legacy” than the party’s prospects in 11 months. The bigs have the money and a comfortable Beltway future ahead of them regardless of the blowback. But many of the House members have no such thing, and some special cases, like Robert Casey Jr. have to decide whether their commitments to voters nattered at all.