Culture war looms as members shift back into campaign mode

The volatile scene on Capitol Hill Sunday foreshadowed a midterm campaign waged not on the wobbling economy but on an explosive mix of cultural issues.


Those two issues, abortion and immigration, which caused Democrats to scramble for votes leading up to final passage of the healthcare bill, look to remain problematic through November.

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“This vote in November is going to be about, ‘Whose side are you on?’ ” Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) said in the Speaker’s Lobby after the healthcare vote.

The GOP is making an issue out of government funding of abortion — just as it did Sunday night when its best effort to scuttle the bill was a motion to recommit to force stricter language denying taxpayer funding for the procedure.

By Monday morning, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) was hitting anti-abortion-rights Democrats for voting against that motion and for the healthcare bill.

The Republicans’ maneuver Sunday night came hours after Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who led a gang of anti-abortion-rights Democrats concerned about language regarding abortion funding, announced his support for the bill after striking a deal with the Democratic leadership and the White House.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) said Monday the “Stupak 7” were the “deciding votes” for the healthcare bill, thereby “betraying life.”

Meanwhile, anti-abortion and religious groups were mobilizing activists and volunteers. A spokesman for the anti-abortion group National Right to Life said earlier that the legislation was the “most pro-abortion single bill ever to reach the House floor.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are focusing on the personal narrative.

Braley said Democrats will be retelling the personal stories of constituents denied life-saving treatment before the bill passed.

He cited his nephew’s son capping out the family’s health insurance policy during ongoing cancer treatments as an example.

The Republicans had “a very strong culture focus,” said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg as he watched Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) victory press conference in the Rayburn room Sunday night. “I think they missed an opportunity to talk about substance.”

The bill’s passage “changes the whole narrative for Democrats,” Greenberg continued. “It’s a big turn. … But it’s a long time till the election.”

Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee (DCCC) Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) compared Sunday’s vote to the passage of the Medicaid bill 45 years ago.

“There were a lot of people who said it was a Stalinist plot; there were others who said this was a communist takeover,” he said. “We also had a lot of naysayers. There was a lot of misinformation out there.”

But when President Barack Obama signs this bill, Van Hollen said, “people are going to find out that all those things that people said are not true, that there are no death panels. And they’re going to find out what this bill does for American families.”

Some conservatives don’t want that to happen and are calling for the GOP to campaign on repealing the bill, which Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.) agreed could be a powerful issue.

“There could be parts of it that need to be repealed,” the former Democrat said. “It’s so vague — it could have so many unintended consequences. There could be some real problems in terms of the funding for it.”

Other Republican candidates have admitted repealing the bill is unrealistic, as it would require the GOP to win back veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

Still, healthcare will continue to galvanize conservative activists.

On Sunday, members could hear the protesters on the House side of the Capitol chanting, “Kill the bill” long into the night. Greg Solovieff, a trauma doctor from Littleton, N.C., was there with his wife, having come to Washington with organizers from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

“This bill’s not about healthcare,” he said. “It’s got everything to do with individual freedom — it’s a freedom destroyer.”

Democrats, meanwhile, will also have to worry about their left flank.

Tens of thousands of immigration-reform protesters marched up Capitol Hill on Sunday. The march wasn’t directly related to healthcare, but members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had been unhappy with language in the bill that barred legal and illegal immigrants from accessing the public health insurance exchanges. They had their concerns alleviated when Obama promised to push for immigration reform.

“There’s a lot of abuses of workers that goes on, but workers feel the employers might retaliate against them,” said Martin Hernandez, a union organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers local 99 in Phoenix. “We have an obligation to try to do something. Immigration reform is going to be part of the answer.”

But as pressure mounts to take up another major legislative issue, members will be anxious to slacken the House’s busy schedule.

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“We’ve had such a heavy lift on major pieces of legislation in the last year,” Braley said. “We have not had a lot of time to [campaign].” Democrats have a story to tell, he added. “I think there’s a lot of successes.”

The desire to get back home is a bipartisan one.

“They got primaries coming up, they’re trying to raise money, the economy is sluggish, not a good time to be raising money. It’s a pressure time,” Griffith said.