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A Closer Look at the ‘Stupak Bloc’


In journalistic shorthand, pro-life Democrats whose support for Obamacare is contingent on the inclusion of anti-abortion language have become the “Stupak bloc.” But the original “Stupak bloc” was never really a bloc. It was a heterogeneous collection of Democrats with mixed voting records. “We talk about the ‘Stupak group,’ but they’re individuals,” says Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Indeed, some are “hard core” about abortion, while others are more flexible; some are conservative Blue Dogs, and others are fairly consistent liberals.

Bart Stupak is not an official Blue Dog, yet the Michigander has been immovable in his opposition to the Senate health-care plan. His lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union (through 2009) is 21.1 percent. The ratings of Jim Cooper (Tennessee) and Brad Ellsworth (Indiana) — two Blue Dogs who remain publicly undecided on the Senate bill — are 23 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Some avowedly pro-life Democrats with lower ratings, such as Dale Kildee of Michigan (12 percent) and Tim Ryan of Ohio (15.14 percent), have declared they will back the legislation; others, including Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts (14.27 percent) and Dan Lipinski of Illinois (17 percent), have pledged to oppose it. Ryan, whom the NRLC has denounced as a “pro-life impersonator,” was reelected in 2008 by a margin of 56 percentage points.

Earlier this week, Minnesota’s Jim Oberstar (lifetime ACU rating: 10.73 percent), head of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, appeared to confirm his support for the Senate measure. But it’s still unclear whether he’s a definite “yes” vote. Like Ryan, Oberstar (first elected in 1974) represents safe Democratic territory.

By contrast, other past or present members of the “Stupak bloc” hail from competitive swing districts. Take freshmen Steve Driehaus (Ohio) and Kathy Dahlkemper (Pennsylvania): In 2008, Driehaus won election by 5 points, and Dahlkemper won by only 3 points.