It was hard to miss the jubilation in the halls of the Baltimore MarriottWaterfront Hotel this week. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was taking a lot of the credit for getting more than 60 Democratic votes on Nov. 7 for a last-minute amendment to President Obama's health care bill that says no federally subsidized insurance plan can cover abortion.
Roman Catholics were front and center in the entire process. Not only is the author of the amendment (Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat) a Roman Catholic but so is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in whose office some of the final deals were cut.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Lifeof America, reminded me that of the 40 known pro-life House Democrats, 12 of them were voted into office in 2006 and 2008, during the same time period the Democratic Party started taking this minority seriously. A quick Internet search revealed that eight of the 12 are Catholic (along with one Episcopalian and three Baptists).
I was curious about what kind of behind-the-scenes work the USCCB staff did. We all knew that various bishops were calling House members; retired Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick's call to Mrs. Pelosi's office from Rome is well known, as was Chicago Cardinal Francis George's call to House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio to make sure Republicans didn't scuttle the amendment.
I asked Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl whether he was part of the lobbying effort but he demurred.
"If I make a personal call over there," he said, "I don't share that."
Although Cardinal McCarrick walked away when I approached him about his call from the Vatican, some of the others involved in the lobbying were more forthcoming. There were four USCCB staff members shuttling between various offices on Capitol Hill that weekend, especially on Nov. 6, the day before the Stupak amendment and the final bill passed. And they didn't come uninvited.
"We were summoned to the Hill by the speaker," one of the quartet told me. "She needed the votes."
And she got them - but with the proviso that she add the Stupak amendment that the Catholics said was simply applying the 1976 Hyde Amendment (which bans federal funding of abortion) to health care reform.
I asked my source how Catholic priorities will fare at the tender mercies of the Senate.
"Everyone told us we had no chance in the House," he said. "Now they tell us we have no chance in the Senate."
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB's Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, told me that Nov. 6 was an especially long day on the Hill for him and three other staffers: Kathy Saile, director of the Office of Domestic Social Development; John Carr, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development; and Jayd Henricks, associate director for government relations.
"It was the most intense experience visiting Capitol Hill that I've ever had," he said, adding he was on the Hill until past 1 a.m. Nov. 7. The next day, he was home sick.
"We were a little nonplussed about the publicity," he said. "One article online said the U.S. bishops are in charge of the government. So one friend called me and said, 'As long as you guys are in charge, can you please change the day they pick up the leaves in front of my house?' "
cJulia Duin's Stairway to Heaven column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at jduin washingtontimes.com.