Pro-life groups are characterizing Rep. Bart Stupak's decision to support Obamacare and its abortion-funding language as a "betrayal," putting the congressman squarely in the political cross-hairs in his upcoming re-election battle in Michigan.
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, told Fox News on Monday morning: "This legislation is the biggest expansion of abortion in our country since Roe versus Wade. It really is a tragedy and on his part, it was a betrayal of historic proportions of principle."
Until Sunday, the Michigan Democrat had insisted that he wouldn't support healthcare reform until Congress voted to rescind language widely interpreted as allowing the expenditure of public funds to pay for the abortions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew that changing the language would cost the support of other Democrats, however. So she kicked the controversy back down Pennsylvania Avenue to the president, who issued an executive order declaring that public funds would not be spent for abortions.
That last-minute move apparently gave Stupak the cover he needed to support the bill.
“The real victory here, or the real winner, is really the American people,” Stupak said Sunday afternoon, in announcing his reversal. “Thirty-one million Americans will have health insurance. We’ll no longer be able to rescind insurance policies on the whim of the insurance companies, pre-existing injuries will no longer disqualify you from coverage, your college kids will be able to stay on your policy longer, there will no lifetime caps, there will be no need for Americans to go into bankruptcy because of healthcare."
The political reaction to Stupak's shift came fast and furious.
Nationally, pro-life advocates and even some Democrats objected that the president's executive order would be virtually meaningless. It can be rescinded at any time by another presidential order, either by Obama or his successor. Also, by law, a presidential executive order cannot countermand congressional legislation. That means the provisions passed by the House will be the law of the land.
The impact was also felt immediately in Stupak's First Congressional District, located largely in Michigan's upper-peninsula area.
One of four Republicans vying for the opportunity to challenge Stupak in November, lifelong surgeon Dr. Dan Benishek, 57, tells Newsmax he had just returned to his Michigan home after a long day on the campaign trail Sunday, and was actually making phone calls for campaign donations, when he turned on his TV to see Stupak discussing his vote change.
Benishek, an Obamacare opponent and political novice running in Michigan’s first congressional district GOP primary, says his phone started ringing before Stupak even completed his remarks.
“Before he was even done talking, people started calling me. They didn't even want to talk to me much. They just wanted to confirm that I was the guy running against Stupak, and how could they send me money. I just couldn't believe it," Benishek tells Newsmax.
Messages of support suddenly flashed onto Stupak's Facebook page.
"I'm not in Michigan, but even those of us in New York realize YOU have to beat Stupak in NOV!!!!" one visitor wrote.
"I live in Hawaii but I'm sending you my check today," another stated. "Stupak must go. Please help us take back our beloved country."
The Benishek for Congress Facebook page, which had gone largely unnoticed, added over 13,000 new members overnight. That compares to Stupak's Facebook page, which boasts 2,056 fans.
Many of the newfound support appeared to come from Tea Party activists.
Benishek tells Newsmax, "I admire the tea party people. The tea party people I've met are standing up for the Constitution."
Benishek, a pro-life conservative, says Stupak "obviously caved in" to political pressure, said that within three hours of Stupak's announcement he had received 2,000 e-mails from newfound supporters. His Web site, benishekforcongress.net, got so many hits that he says it crashed.
Jeff Lamb, chairman of the First District Republican's organization, said he's seen the same reaction across the district.
"I've been getting lots of e-mail inside the district, but also outside the district, with people look at who's running against Bart Stupak… People are mad. Rep. Stupak has been up here in town meetings. I've heard him say he's going to say 'no, no, no' to this, and now that he gets an executive order from the president, who you've got to say is pretty far from a pro-life person, and by giving him an executive order that somehow this is going to flip his vote."
Stupak has represented the swing-district in upstate Michigan since 1993, but Lamb now believes the GOP has "one whale of a chance" in November.
In addition to Benishek, the other Republicans competing in the August primary are: Pro bono lawyer Linda Goldthorpe (lindaforcongress.com); equipment operator and trucking company CEO Don Hooper (donhooper4congress.com); Tom Stillings, a staunch conservative who like Goldthorpe ran in the district's 2008 GOP primary for Stupak's seat. Stillings' Web site, www.stillingsforcongress.com, did not appear to be operational as of Monday morning.
Stupak's controversial stand may embolden others to step into the race as well. The filing deadline is May 11.
The immediate reaction when Stupak decided to flip suggests Democrats may pay a steep price at the polls in November for Sunday's vote.
"How can our representatives spend our money without even reading the bill?" Benishek says, echoing the voter disenchantment reflected in the polls. "That's what really put me over the top with the stimulus package. I mean, they didn't even read the bill and they voted to spend our money. We put time in, we work until April or May just to pay our taxes, and then to have them spend that money without even knowing where it's going or where it's coming from. That's not the government I wanted to vote for. So I decided to run."
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