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Chad Selweski

Chad Selweski

Mirror Images: Upton and Stupak

May 19, 2017

What is it about Michigan congressmen and health care reform – why are they the center of attention and the target for detractors nationwide when this issue reaches a boiling point?

In 2010, Rep. Bart Stupak—an Upper Peninsula Democrat—struck a deal with the Obama White House just hours before the final House vote on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and succeeded in pushing “Obamacare” over the top. For that move, he became perhaps the most reviled congressman in America among several voting blocs until he quickly decided to retire from Congress after 18 years.

Earlier this month, Rep. Fred Upton, a West Michigan Republican, negotiated an amendment with the Trump White House less than 24 hours before the Obamacare repeal-and-replace vote, and that maneuver paved the way for a 217-213 House roll call in favor of the American Health Care Act, or “Trumpcare.” The immediate outfall elevated Upton to “Enemy No. 1,” from coast to coast, among lawmakers and health care organizations who denounce the AHCA.

What’s been lost in the coverage of the spirited House vote are the undeniable correlations between Stupak and Upton as Michigan lawmakers who each dove into the political pit of controversy over health care–one to save Obamacare from drowning, the other to bury the Obamacare “status quo” six feet under.

Stupak, a pro-life Democrat from Menominee, led a group of other pro-life Dems on Capitol Hill in 2010 who held back their support for the ACA due to concerns about a potential loophole allowing taxpayer-funded abortions. He broke the logjam on the day of the final vote after President Obama promised to sign a compromise executive order that addressed Stupak’s objections to the bill.

Death Threat; Routinely Cussed Out

In the aftermath, Stupak faced a legitimate death threat that prompted a criminal case, and admittedly he was accosted in airports and other public places for more than a year by people who recognized his face and grabbed the opportunity to “cuss (him) out.”

Stupak endured relentless ridicule on Internet message boards and Upton, of St. Joseph, has suffered a similar beating online in recent days. Unlike Stupak’s situation, Upton’s barrage was fueled by Facebook, which was rather obscure in 2010, and Twitter, which barely existed seven years ago.

But, like Stupak, angry demonstrators targeted Upton as they converged on his home district.

According to news reports, a “sea of protesters” surrounded Upton’s congressional office in downtown Kalamazoo during two separate demonstrations on May 4, the day of the House vote. The already infamous Upton Amendment established an $8 billion allocation over several years to help people with pre-existing medical conditions afford AHCA health care coverage. Critics said it amounted to a Band-Aid.

One day before unveiling his compromise amendment and subsequent support for Trumpcare, Upton had announced that he would vote against the AHCA. This sudden flip led to a Twitter hashtag, #FredFlops, as dozens of opponents across the country heeded calls to send “smelly” flip-flop sandals that were displayed on the steps of the lawmaker’s St. Joseph office. Both Stupak and Upton also faced revulsion within their respective parties leading up to the 2010 and 2017 health care votes, respectively.

Incumbent’s Own Party Lined up Opposition

Pro-choice groups on the abortion issue were so incensed with Stupak that liberals lined up a candidate to challenge the veteran incumbent in the 2010 Democratic primary. As for Upton, his initial decision to oppose the AHCA, a move that was expected to sway other undecided Republicans and likely kill the bill a second time, brought the wrath of conservatives. The Washington Times editorialized that Upton previously spouted phony rhetoric and that, “he was never serious about wanting to repeal the (Obamacare) law in the first place.”

Upton and Stupak learned two Washington realities that play out in the end: In these instances, eventually “all is forgiven” inside the lawmakers’ party, and “you will never be forgiven” is the mantra among the opposing party that held out hope for an outsider leading the way to a House victory/defeat. The Stupak and Upton stories serve as a mirror image of each other: A center-left Democrat playing a key role to create an unprecedented health care entitlement vs. a center-right Republican seven years later engineering the potential demise of that same program.

In the lightning-fast news world of Trump, Twitter, and Facebook, Upton outrage may fade quickly. So far, no death threats have been reported. These two Capitol Hill showdowns reflect how accelerated the 2017 time frame is in Congress compared to just a few years ago. In 2010, Stupak and his allies held firm for six months. In 2017, a first attempt to pass the AHCA rose and fell in a matter of about a month. The second attempt changed almost daily since mid-April and undecided GOP House members faced persistent persuasion only for about 10 days.

Upton announced his opposition to the AHCA on May 2, and switched to a “yes” vote on May 3. Times have changed. Political timing has changed.

Seven years ago, Stupak pulled the plug on his congressional career. We will see in the coming months if Upton’s re-election is on life-support as the 2018 election approaches.

A freelance writer from Macomb County, Chad Selweski was the political reporter at The Macomb Daily for nearly 30 years. At the Daily he earned 50 journalism awards and in 2014 he was named by Politico as one of the “Media Stars” in seven political battleground states. He can be reached at chad.b.selweski@gmail.com.

May 18, 2017 · Filed under Chad Selweski



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