Man with the Vote: Stupak says his book tells ‘true story’ about Obamacare

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak talks about his new book “For All Americans: The Dramatic Story Behind the Stupak Amendment and the Historic Passage of Obamacare” to a gathering in Houghton.

HOUGHTON — In the final weeks before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Bart Stupak emerged as a key figure due to his work to ensure federal funds did not go toward abortions.

Stupak, who served nine terms as the Democratic U.S. House representative for Michigan’s 1st District, covered the tumultuous process leading to the final bill in his new book, “For All Americans: The Dramatic Story Behind the Stupak Amendment and the Historic Passage of Obamacare.”

He spoke recently in Houghton about the events and writing the book.

Stupak was co-sponsor of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the House version of the health care bill, which would in most cases ban the use of federal funds to pay for abortion or plans covering abortion.

The amendment was included in the House’s version of the bill but not the Senate’s.

After negotiations with the White House, Stupak agreed to support the passage of the final bill without the language. In exchange, President Obama signed an executive order stating the bill would not violate the Hyde Amendment, which barred the use of federal funds on abortion.

A national care health system was one of three promises Stupak made when he first ran for Congress in 1992, he said.

He had been dismayed to see the amendment used to rally opposition to the bill in the Senate, as well as the refusal of Catholic bishops to support the bill, even with the amendment.

“I didn’t want my amendment, nor my strong belief in the sanctity of life, to be able to kill health care for all Americans,” he said. “It was quite a battle.”

Even before the final weeks, Stupak, like most members of Congress in 2010, was facing pressure from a public growing hostile to the bill. He had a standing-room-only town hall at Michigan Technological University that January.

Rare for a town hall in Michigan’s 1st Congressional District, the town hall was broadcast on C-SPAN.

The town hall, which included a 32-slide presentation from Stupak on the bill, got the attention of former President Bill Clinton, who called it the best health care presentation he had heard.

A number of Stupak’s House colleagues later borrowed the slides for their own town halls.

“We heard a lot in the last campaign about how premiums went up 26 percent, ‘Obamacare’s failing,’ and all that,” he said. “Think of where we were in 2009 and 2010 and I have emails where people’s insurance went up 130 percent. And the rate since we passed the Affordable Care Act of Medicare growth has really been fairly slow — the lowest it’s ever been. So the Affordable Care Act would work if the Republicans would allow it.”

Stupak said he wrote the book in part to “tell the true story” about the bill. Some of this came from people enlarging their role in the process. Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had described sitting down with Stupak to negotiate the final agreement. Instead, it was White House Counsel Robert Bauer.

But the biggest misconceptions were about the bill itself, he said.

“If there’s a regret I have, it’s that the whole issue of whether it was going to pass came down to abortion,” he said. “I’d rather have it depend on whether or not this policy’s a good policy or not. The whole thing was lost.

“The other big tragedy was 30 days after the Affordable Care Act was passed, the Gulf oil spill happened, and everyone’s attention switched from health care to watching this leaking pipe in the Gulf of Mexico. So we lost our attention and our focus on health care,” he said.

Garrett Neese can be reached at