Lost among the frenzy of last Saturday’s health care debate were two discordant notes within the Republican caucus. Both were the brainchild of Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), who challenged Minority Leader John Boehner for his position during last winter’s the 2006 leadership elections. I was a Shadegg guy then. Now I’m glad the caucus voted for the other guy.
First, Shadegg chose to use his Chief of Staff’s child as a prop during his speech on the bill. Holding the 7-month-old little girl in his arms, Shadegg claimed to give voice for her unspoken thoughts on the legislation:
“Maddy believes in freedom,” Mr. Shadegg said, as his chief-of-staff’s daughter reached toward the microphone. “Maddy likes America because we have freedom.”
He added, “She came here to say she doesn’t want the government to take over health care … She doesn’t want a health care bill that will cost $1.5 trillion.” And he said that if the bill passes, Maddy knows her mother will lose her health insurance.
More seriously, Shadegg was the only Republican not to vote for the Stupak amendment, the crucial legislative fix that banned the use of federal funds for abortion in the health care plan. Shadegg is staunchly pro-life, and he voted present. Why?
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) had assembled over 40 Democrats who said they would not support the Pelosi bill if Stupak’s amendment failed to pass. That group was enough to doom the bill if every Republican voted against it (as was expected). Until the day before the debate, it was not even certain that Pelosi would allow a vote to take place on Stupak’s amendment. Once the Speaker counted the votes, however, she relented.
Most conservatives saw this as a victory — even if this monstrosity of a health care bill passed, at least it would not break the decades-old ban on federally-funded abortions. Shadegg, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to scuttle the bill. Using Stupak’s strength against him, Shadegg proposed to the House GOP that they vote “present” on the amendment. This ploy would cause the amendment to fail, leaving abortion funding in the bill. Republicans would effectively be daring pro-life Democrats to vote for the abortion-friendly bill, having denied them their opportunity to scrub out the abortion funding. Shadegg summarized his argument:
“(Nancy) Pelosi is speaker and she’s pro abortion every minute of every hour of every day as speaker,” Shadegg said in an interview with POLITICO Saturday evening. “This is a vote to help her move the bill forward.”
This ploy might have caused incredible heartburn for pro-life Democrats. It might have even postponed passage of the bill. But its profound cynicism would have destroyed any opportunity for cooperation among Republicans and more conservative Democrats for the duration of the health care debate, and possibly beyond. Protection of the unborn isn’t just a slogan — it’s a core principle of the party, and a moral underpinning of the conservative movement. Abandoning it at such a crucial moment to score a momentary victory isn’t good politics. It isn’t even good tactics. It’s just wrong.
Shadegg’s maneuver showed that he was willing to potentially allow the U.S. Treasury to pay for the deaths of children in an attempt to scuttle a piece of legislation. And yet he is also willing to use a speechless infant as an unwitting vehicle for his own policy arguments. I don’t think Shadegg is a bad guy, or that he doesn’t share my values. But I do think that Shadegg is unable to differentiate between a good argument and bad theater, between legislative tactics and legislative malpractice. And that’s why I’m glad to call John Boehner our Minority Leader.