Senate Democrats: Discussing Moral Issues

Senate Democrats invited religion reporters to the Capitol on October 21—no  cameras were allowed—to talk about “the moral imperatives of health care and climate change.” The session was organized by the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee as part of an ongoing Democratic effort to reach out to faith groups. Eight Democratic senators pleaded for bipartisanship and teamwork in the face of Republican filibusters of bills, nominations, and other legislative initiatives that are not moving ahead on the Senate floor, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asked faith communities to “speak out against obstructions.”

onenation_postThe procedural frustrations of the Democrats were obvious. Florida Senator Bill Nelson compared the US unfavorably to the African nation of Rwanda, where he said “forgiveness and reconciliation” overcame political differences and genocide. “Where do you observe reconciliation in American politics today?” Nelson asked.

“I don’t usually talk about moral issues, but you do,” Senator Barbara Boxer of California told reporters. “If ever the religious community should speak with one voice,” she suggested, it is now, as “great moral questions” dominate the legislative agenda. Boxer chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which holds hearings next week (October 27-29) on energy legislation introduced last month by Boxer and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Religious leaders will be among those who testify, said Boxer.

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, a pro-life Catholic, said “we’re working on it” when asked about abortion coverage in the Senate health reform bill and whether he would vote against reform if the final bill doesn’t explicitly prevent federal funds from being used for abortion. “The bill needs more work done,” he said. But Senator Stabenow told reporters Casey was “not going to have to make that choice” because “we don’t have public funding for abortion,” and the Democrats “have gone to great lengths to make it [the bill] abortion neutral.” Some abortion opponents, however, believe otherwise.  The US Catholic bishops, longtime advocates of universal health coverage, said last week they do not yet support the Senate bill because of their concerns about affordability, coverage for immigrants, and financing for abortion. As for Democratic outreach to the bishops, “we are communicating with them as we have been,” said Stabenow.

Stabenow asked faith groups to help legislators get “past the noise” and “beyond the rancor” and “call us to a higher moral authority.” If they don’t take up the cause of health care reform, said Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, religious communities will be called on to do more than they already do to meet the needs of the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. “I talk about this as a moral issue all the time,” said Cardin. “That is very much what this debate is all about.”

  • jeanblake

    i dont beleive in taking from the seniors and financing abortion places

  • Rose

    I don’t believe in all the cuts to Medicare. What are they thinking…making people on fixed incomes pay more for their healthcare? Also,I do not want any of my taxes to go for someone’s abortion! I do not believe in abortion,therefore do not want ANY part of it. And our government should not force us.

  • Mick Finch

    Comments #1 and #2 are mis-informed. The current health care bills do not fund abortion. There may end up being provisions when mother’s live is in danager. Also the health bill will not cut medicare. My parents are on medicare and I would not want that either. Their are many groups trying to scare people with in-correct information but democrates who have always favored medicare are not going to cut it. What really should happen is that medicare should be offered to everyone through payroll deducations just like the deducations that have been coming out of my paycheck for 50 years.

  • Fernando Moreno, MD

    Taking care of the poor and sick is a moral obligation deeply rooted in all of the world’s great religious traditions. Republicans are so good at scaring people with words like “abortion”, that they overlook the current nature of our healthcare system which is deeply unethical. Allowing people to die because they cannot afford healthcare–40,000 people die annually in the US because they don’t have health insurance–is a serious flaw in the moral righteousness of some American’s. I think it was Jesus who said, “whatsoever you do unto the least among you, you have done to me”.

  • John Eley

    It is too bad that the discussion concerning moral aspects of health care was conducted in such a limited arena and that the assertion that providing health care to all is a moral imperative was not challenged more effectively. It appears that the moral issue has been decided by those who are content to simply assert that their position is morally right and that those who offer an alternative view are lacking in moral values. The simple assertion as made here that religious views ought to prevail is contrary to the fundamental premise that in a liberal democracy versions of the good should not prevail over basic rights, such as the right not to be forced to purchase something that the government says that you are obligated to purchase. The view of religions needs to be taken into account but it deserves no greater standing that the view of any other school of thought. I for one do not find it morally offensive that some persons do not get medical care because they cannot afford when many different human “needs” go unmet. All efforts to elevate some needs over others and to argue that it is the task of the government to provide them to those who cannot get them through their own efforts are based on weak moral and philosophical grounds to the extent that they fail to recognize that all assertions of the obligation to meet the needs of others are arbitrary and subjective. The argument for meeting health care needs should be weighed against the view that the highest moral calling of a government is the protection of liberty from governmental interference. The latter is no more or no less arbitrary or subjective than the former and our discourse on this matter needs to be conducted on that basis, not on the basis of moral absolutes, especially when those arguing for one side or the other attempt to use the coercive power of the government.