After Giffords shooting, Stupak’s fears linger: ‘I’m the face of healthcare’

After suffering through a “living hell” during negotiations on the healthcare law, former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) finds it hard, a year later, to distance himself from his pivotal role.

“I guess I’m the face of healthcare,” Stupak told The Hill in an interview this week. “It goes with the territory.”

{mosads}Last March, Stupak became the object of a flood of threats and obscene messages, left at his office and his home, as he helped hammer out a deal between anti-abortion-rights Democrats and the White House that was instrumental in passing healthcare reform through the House by a single-digit-margin.

He used the phrase “living hell” to describe the experience during a sit-down interview with The Hill in the thick of negotiations last year.

The vitriol surrounding the debate was so palpable that Stupak said he was not surprised when he heard, in January of this year, that a lawmaker had been shot.

He was surprised, however, that the lawmaker was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who is not considered a controversial figure.

If anything, it would have been easier to understand if a controversial lawmaker — like himself — had been targeted, Stupak said. After all, a criminal case is still pending against a father and son who threatened him last year.

“It still could be [me],” Stupak said. “Who knows?”

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Stupak announced his decision not to seek reelection in early April 2010, shortly after the Affordable Care Act became law. Stupak was among the few who did not attribute his decision to the fallout from the debate.

The man who became a villain a year ago in the eyes of many on both the left and the right said it’s “not unusual” for strangers, to this day, to curse him out. 

Fierce opposition rose from both sides against Stupak as he demanded stronger anti-abortion language in the reform’s final version. In the end, President Obama signed an executive order that banned federal dollars from going to new health insurance exchanges, appeasing the dozen lawmakers aligned with Stupak.

A year later, Stupak stands by his controversial role in passing healthcare reform, which squeaked by the House, 219-212.

“You take the bad with the good, but it came down that I played a pivotal role,” he said. “I’m comfortable with doing it, I’m comfortable with the legislation, and I still think it’s a good piece of legislation.”

Stupak said he has concerns over anti-abortion-rights bills raised early in the new Congress, including one that would codify the executive order he negotiated with Obama. Stupak worries the bill might go further than the executive order, and he pointed out that Obama has not reneged on his end of the deal.

Stupak believes another bill that would end tax breaks for private insurance plans that offer abortion coverage is “probably an overreach.”

These days, Stupak is still talking about healthcare, but as a fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. When his fellowship ends next month, Stupak plans to join up with a law firm in Michigan or Washington.

As far as his decision not to run for reelection, Stupak said it “looks smarter every day.”


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