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“Personhood”: Romney Tries To Have It Both Ways

Trying to figure out where Mitt Romney stands on the issues can be difficult. Climate change, gun control, gay rights—the waffling is so bad, there are multiple websites devoted to it.

Now, with a number of states trying to pass laws that would redefine fertilized human eggs as people, Romney has been asked multiple times whether he thinks legal personhood should begin the moment a sperm penetrates an egg. He hasn’t been consistent on the subject.

In 2007, Romney told ABC News he supported a “Human Life Amendment” to the Constitution that would “make it clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections”—equal protection under the law, for example—”apply to unborn children.” The proposed amendment, long a part of the Republican Party platform, is the national equivalent of the state-level personhood measures that have proliferated in recent months. Both the state and federal versions of the proposals would extend legal rights to early term fetuses, effectively making all abortions illegal. Voters in Mississippi considered, and rejected, a ballot initiative on the matter on November 8, but activists recently launched similar efforts in Wisconsin and Georgia.

Supporting such a radical restriction on abortion rights represents a shift for Romney. As a Senate candidate in 1994, he declared, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country,” and he continued to voice support for Roe v. Wade as governor of Massachusetts. These days, though, Romney says he is “pro-life” and that abortion should be “limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.” But the Human Life Amendment he has supported would go much further.

For years, social conservatives have tried and failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary to pass a Human Life Amendment in Congress. Rather than overturning Roe and sending the abortion debate back to the states, the majority of these measures have redefined personhood as beginning at conception—thus extending legal and constitutional rights to fertilized eggs.

The most recent effort on this front is HR 212, Rep. Paul Broun’s (R-Ga.) “Sanctity of Human Life Act.” As Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann has reported, the language of Broun’s bill is nearly identical to Mississippi’s recently defeated personhood amendment, granting “all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood” at the point of fertilization. Like the Mississippi amendment, the federal measure would not only outlaw all abortions, but it could also make some types of birth control, in vitro fertilization, and medical interventions for a pregnant woman’s health illegal.

Despite publicly supporting this type of measure in the past, Romney is still trying to play both sides of the issue. In a September debate, Romney was asked explicitly whether he would support a Human Life Amendment. He said he believes that the Supreme Court should return the decision on abortion to the states and promised he would appoint judges who would do just that. As to whether Congress should act to draft a constitutional amendment that includes the unborn, he argued:

That would create obviously a constitutional crisis. Could that happen in this country? Could there be circumstances where that might occur? I think it’s reasonable that something of that nature might happen someday. That’s not something I would precipitate.

The fight over personhood grew much more heated in the weeks following the September debate, and Romney’s position shifted yet again. Asked about personhood during an October television appearance, Romney said that if he had been presented a bill that defined life as beginning at conception while governor of Massachusetts, he “absolutely” would have signed it. He has also made clear that he believes life begins at conception.

As Jason Salzman points out on his blog for the Rocky Mountain Media Watch, Romney has flip-flopped repeatedly on this subject. So does Romney support a federal law that defines “personhood” as beginning at conception, or not?

Romney’s team has tried to finesse the issue, arguing that although he endorses a federal Human Life Amendment, he also thinks that that abortion should be a state-level decision.

That’s not a coherent argument. In order to amend the Constitution, two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states must approve the change. That’s a high bar. But after an amendment passes, the states can’t pick and choose which parts of the Constitution they like. If the Constitution were amended to say a fertilized egg is a legal person, state law would have to be brought in line with the new constitutional reality. It would be as if every state had passed the Mississippi personhood amendment.

“Anywhere they give legal rights to and define ‘person’ as beginning at fertilization, you have the ‘personhood’ effect,” explains Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Such a change would not simply be a reversal of Roe. “If there’s a Human Life Amendment that gives unborn children the rights of people under the 14th Amendment, then it wouldn’t go back to the states,” says Suzanne Novack, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It would be the law of the land.”

Romney’s flip-flops on personhood don’t help him politically. But they do fit in with the broader goals of personhood advocates. The movement’s measures aren’t likely to pass, and if they did, they would inevitably be challenged in court. But although personhood measures have failed everywhere they’ve been tried so far, the sustained effort has managed to put the issue on the national stage.

Instead of arguing about whether abortion is a woman’s legal right, people are fighting over whether to issue passports to the unborn. “It’s really broadening what the anti-abortion movement is going after and trying to force candidates to go there with them,” Kolbi-Molinas says. For the personhood movement, getting GOP presidential contenders like Romney to weigh in on their issue is a win in itself.

By: Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones, November 22, 2011

November 22, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Womens Rights | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Spending Cuts”: GOP Demands An End To Their Own Idea

Remember the “triggers” in the debt-ceiling agreement? Let’s take a moment to refresh the political world’s memory.

Congressional Republicans, in a move without precedent in American history, were holding the economy and the full faith and credit of the United States hostage. Democrats, fearful that the GOP wasn’t bluffing and that the nation would pay a severe price, was willing to cut a bad deal: $900 billion in debt reduction, on top of another $1.2 trillion agreement to be worked out by a so-called super-committee.

But Dems weren’t completely willing to roll over — they wanted to create an incentive for Republicans to work in good faith on the $1.2 trillion in savings. Democrats proposed the threat of automatic tax increases to push GOP officials to be responsible, but Republicans refused and offered an alternative: if the committee failed, the GOP would accept $600 billion in defense cuts and Dems would accept $600 billion in non-defense domestic cuts.

Remember, the point was to create an incentive that the parties would be desperate to avoid. Pentagon cuts were Republicans’ contribution to the process. These cuts were their idea.

And wouldn’t you know it, Republicans don’t like their idea anymore.

Failure by Congress’ debt-cutting supercommittee to recommend $1.2 trillion in savings by Wednesday is supposed to automatically trigger spending cuts in the same amount to accomplish that job.

But the same legislators who concocted that budgetary booby trap just four months ago could end up spending the 2012 election year and beyond battling over defusing it.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say they are writing legislation to prevent what they say would be devastating cuts to the military. House Republicans are exploring a similar move.

This isn’t exactly surprising, but it is kind of amusing. Republicans, in effect, said in August, “If we fail, we’ll accept these cuts we don’t want.” The same Republicans, in effect, are now saying, “It turns out, we don’t like our idea anymore.”

In the bigger picture, Republicans were never working in good faith. Even putting aside the inherently disgusting debt-ceiling crisis they created over the summer, GOP officials were willing to offer the defense-cut trigger precisely because they knew they’d try to kill it after the super-committee inevitably failed.

Republicans started this fight demanding debt reduction, then offered massive spending cuts to a part of the government they care about. They’re now demanding less debt reduction and more government spending — and if Democrats balk, these same Republicans will spend an election year accusing them of being anti-military.

I often wonder what our discourse would be like if the general public knew what GOP officials were up to in Washington.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, The Washington Monthly, November 21, 2011

November 22, 2011 Posted by | Deficits | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Does Super Committee Failure Mean For Healthcare?

The medical community is buzzing with concern this afternoon over what the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction means for healthcare providers and recipients.

Under the ‘trigger’ provisions agreed upon during the August debt default crisis, were the super-committee to fail to arrive at their own formula for getting rid of $1.2 trillion in deficit – a circumstance that has now become reality – Medicare would find itself facing an annual cut of 2 percent each year for a ten year period beginning in 2013.

Should this actually occur it would be disastrous for health of the nation’s senior citizens. Properly configured, the cuts could be made without biting into benefits for the elderly who depend upon the program, but the trigger mechanism does not point to specific areas of the federal health program where the cuts could be targeted in a way that would reduce spending while protecting benefits. Thus, everything would have be cut by the 2% amount, including medical benefits.

Personally, I don’t believe for a moment that the sequester provisions that were the penalty for failure of the deficit committee will ever see the light of day. There are thirteen months to go before these provisions kick in and Congress is already planning way to work around the cuts – particularly with respect to the defense budget. As a result, we can fully expect that the lame-duck session that will take place immediately following next November’s elections will either do away with or drastically modify the anticipated cuts.

It should also be noted that there are many policy experts who believe that had the panel reached an agreement, the damage to Medicare may have been far more serious than the planned 2 percent annual cuts.

There is, however, some real potential for immediate damage as a result of this Congressional failure.

The physician community had hoped that a deal would have brought resolution to the Medicare payment reductions doctors face each and every year as a result of the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. While Congress has traditionally delayed the cuts each year, the current decrease scheduled – should it actually happen – would hit physicians with a 27% pay cut for caring for Medicare patients starting January, 2012.

Given the tenor of Congress these days, there seems to be some chance that the Republicans might wish to make their point by allowing the payment reduction to take place.  Should this happen, we’ve got a very big problem on our hands.

Physicians are already unable to make much-if any-profit on what Medicare pays them to treat our nation’s elderly. A near 30% cut would cause many-far too many-doctors to close up shop to seniors who are unable to cover the fees doctors require to stay in business out of their own pockets.  The disastrous result this would lead to is obvious.

Says American Medical Association president, Peter Carmel:

The failure of the deficit committee forces our nation to continue on an unsustainable path that puts current and future generations of Americans at risk for harsh consequences The deficit committee had a unique opportunity to stabilize the Medicare program for America’s seniors now and for generations to come.

Once again, Congress failed to stop the annual charade of scheduled Medicare physician payment cuts and short-term patches, which spends more taxpayer money to perpetuate a policy everyone agrees is fatally flawed.

Via Medpage Today

As I often point out, doctors are the one element of our healthcare system that are irreplaceable. Having hospitals are of little value when there are no physicians walking the halls to care for us. Drugs aren’t going to reach those who need them if there are no doctors to write the prescriptions.

Let’s hope that Congress is not so foolish as to make their point by hurting physicians and the seniors who  depend upon them.

By: Rick Ungar, Forbes, November 21, 2011

November 22, 2011 Posted by | Health Care | , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Super Committee’ Failure: Super Gridlock In The Muppet Congress

In an age of super heroes and blockbuster movies glorifying those with extraordinary powers, we are left with the Muppets. And that may be doing a disservice to the Muppets.

Only 9 percent of the American people have a positive image of Congress—slightly higher than the percentage that view Fidel Castro favorably. Now that is scary.

Are these bad people? No. Do they not have the best interests of the American people at heart? I believe most do.

Is this all about two different philosophies of government? Certainly, that is a big part of the stalemate.

Unfortunately, most Americans now believe that there is more consensus, more cooperation, and more compromise—and maybe more maturity—on a nursery school play yard than in the U.S. Congress.

We can point to growing polarization, a lack of civility, people coming to Congress in ideological straight jackets, signing ridiculous pledges, being beholden to the more extreme elements of their political party.

But I would argue that American Democracy, at least for the moment, has transitioned into a parliamentary system, without the accountability. It is nearly impossible for Members of Congress to routinely cross party lines, at least on the most important votes. The pressure is great, the ideology has become increasingly rigid, and the politics of bucking your leadership is seriously problematic.

The current gridlock on our most difficult problems can’t be resolved by dissolving the government and holding new elections. It probably won’t be resolved next November. We will be faced, no matter who wins, with equal or greater intransigence from the opposition party.

And our voters will not have a chance to vote, as in a parliamentary system, for or against the party in power or the back benchers. Because our system now allows a minority to stifle the majority so easily in the Senate, through filibusters and holds, but allows the majority to dictate what is brought to the floor and voted on in the House, we are faced with paralysis.

Never before have I seen such a strong sense of a party-lock in Congress. Our recent history is one of moderates in the two parties holding swing votes, people crossing party lines on issues, and the ability to reach compromise when the country demands it.

Now, we exhibit all the markings of a parliamentary system but cannot extricate ourselves from the tendency toward permanent gridlock. Campaigns never end and self-preservation determines many members’ votes. The old approach of “working it out” is gone, at least temporarily, and there is no mechanism, even with the so-called super committee, to bust out of the hold that the system has on Congress.

The American people, after this latest breakdown, are watching as their savings and 401k’s are tanking. They are watching the blame game. They are watching Congress do very little to create jobs and improve their economic plight. For the moment, all they can do is throw up their hands. And the anger builds.

By: Peter Fenn, Opinion Writer, U. S. News and World Report, November 21, 2011

November 22, 2011 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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