Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is This War?

The Federal agency responsible for abortion policy -- and the shepherding of any proposed Freedom of Choice Act through Congress -- will be led by... a pro-choice Catholic:
President-elect Barack Obama has chosen his close confidant and former Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle to serve as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, according to several sources close to the transition.

Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, will also reportedly be given a policy portfolio that stretches beyond the department in order to help shepherd health-care reform legislation in 2009.

He will oversee a department of nearly 65,000 employees spread across 11 operating divisions with a budget this year of $707.7 billion. If he is confirmed by the Senate, his responsibilities will include the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Food and Drug Administration, public health programs and government research at the National Institutes of Health.

More significantly, Daschle has positioned himself as Obama's central adviser on efforts to dramatically expand health-care coverage next year, while at the same time lowering costs. During the campaign, Obama promised to reduce the average family's medical bill by $2,500.

Daschle, 59, is a co-author of the book "Critical: What We Can Do about the Health-Care Crisis," in which he recommends creating an entity modeled after the Federal Reserve Board oversee health care in the United States.

When the book was released in February, one of the promotional blurbs was penned by then-Sen. Obama.

"The American health-care system is in crisis, and workable solutions have been blocked for years by deeply entrenched ideological divisions," Obama wrote at the time. "Sen. Daschle brings fresh thinking to this problem, and his Federal Reserve for Health concept holds great promise for bridging this intellectual chasm and, at long last, giving this nation the health care it deserves."
On the prime issue of hierarchical concern, the former leader's record is mixed; over his three terms in the Senate, Daschle supported both the bans on partial-birth abortions and the application of criminal penalties for harm sustained by an unborn child in a crime against its mother. He also favored expansion of Federal investment in embryonic stem-cell research -- another hot-button under HHS' umbrella.

In a referendum at this month's vote, Daschle's home state rejected a ban on all abortions exclusive of cases of rape and incest by a substantial margin.

Civilly divorced and remarried sans annulment -- and, as a result, prohibited from the Eucharist irrespective of his issue-stances -- the reported HHS nominee received an informal ecclesiastical sanction in 2003:
The Senate minority leader and the highest ranking Democrat in Washington has been sent a letter by his home diocese of Sioux Falls... directing him to remove from his congressional biography and campaign documents all references to his standing as a member of the Catholic Church....

The directive from Sioux Falls' Bishop Robert Carlson is rather something less than excommunication--and, at the same time, something more: a declaration that Tom Daschle's religious identification constitutes, in technical Catholic vocabulary, a grave public scandal. He was brought up as a Catholic, and he may still be in some sort of genuine mental and spiritual relation to the Church. Who besides his confessor could say? But Daschle's consistent political opposition to Catholic teachings on moral issues--abortion, in particular--has made him such a problem for ordinary churchgoers that the Church must deny him the use of the word "Catholic."

Much of the discussion about Daschle's standing has gone on in private over the last few years, although Bishop Carlson and Senator Daschle had a very public spat about partial-birth abortion in 1997. During the run-up to a Senate vote on the issue, Daschle proposed what he called a "compromise," banning the procedure while allowing exemptions for any woman who claimed mental or physical health reasons for having such a late-term procedure. Pointing out the way the exemptions gutted the ban, Carlson called Daschle's proposed compromise a "smokescreen" designed solely to "provide cover for pro-abortion senators and President Clinton, who wanted to avoid a veto confrontation."

Daschle, in turn, rose on the floor of the Senate in Washington to denounce his own bishop back in South Dakota for speaking in a way "more identified with the radical right than with thoughtful religious leadership." Carlson later told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that he remains mystified by Daschle's position on abortion. "NARAL claims him as one of their number-one supporters. I don't understand how he can be in touch with South Dakotans as much as he is, and yet consistently have a pro-abortion record."

This year [i.e. 2003], on January 16, Bishop Carlson received additional ammunition for his discussions with Daschle when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued in Rome a "Doctrinal Note" on Catholics in political life. "A well-formed Christian conscience," the note declared, "does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals."
While members of Congress would be seen as representing (and, at least in theory, based in) their home-states, however, officials in the executive are viewed as being domiciled in the capital... and, ergo... complete the sentence.