Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina was wrong to blurt out "You lie!" during a presidential health care pitch before a joint session of Congress in September. That is: civility and propriety required a different approach, at a different time. But the fact of the matter is: The White House does frequently, in fact, tell something other than the truth, especially if abortion is involved.
One of the more recent examples of this habit of deception came from presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs, during one of his daily press conferences. A reporter referred to a letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed to lawmakers: "So far the health reform bills considered in the committee, including the new Senate Finance Committee bill, have not met the president's challenge of barring the use of federal dollars for abortion." The reporter asked: "Is that statement wrong?"
Gibbs responded: "Well, I don't want to get me in trouble at church, but I would mention there's a law that precludes the use of federal funds for abortion. That isn't going to be changed in these health care bills."
The reporter pressed: "There have been, though, several amendments that would explicitly bar abortions, that would therefore reject it…"
Gibbs insisted: "Again, there's a fairly well documented federal law that prevents it."
Gibbs was being dishonest. He was clearly talking about the Hyde Amendment, a 1976 provision that bans federal funding of abortions for Medicaid recipients; it was attached as a rider on a Medicaid allocation bill. The reporter and the bishops, of course, were not talking about appropriations bills. They were focused on the health-care reform revolution upon which President Obama has set so much of his reputation.
During that speech to Congress, the president declared, "Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions." There are problems with that statement however. One of them is that there is no one plan. The White House did not submit a bill to Congress, it left it to committees in the House and Senate to craft multiple bills. The White House has not endorsed a single plan over another among those floating around the Hill. And, as you can read in the New York Times — certainly not an organ of the anti-abortion movement — "Mr. Obama has promised for months that the health care overhaul would not provide federal money to pay for elective abortions, but White House officials have declined to spell out what he means."
The president has repeatedly and vehemently dismissed concerns and criticisms from the likes of the bishops about abortion and his health-care campaign, even invoking the tablets from Mount Sinai when he announced during a phone call with left-wing religious leaders: "I know there's been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness, but I want everyone to know what health insurance reform is all about."
The White House and its allies are hiding behind Hyde, named after a late Republican congressman from Illinois who was considered a legislative hero by much of the pro-life movement. But the Obama administration does so disingenuously.
If the so-called "public option" plan or "affordability credits," which are premium subsidies, come to pass, abortion funding will be very much on the table, and possibly part of the law. In fact, in an amendment added to the predominant House bill, federal funding for abortion is explicitly required in the credits scenario. As the National Right to Life Committee has explained: "All of the types of funds that would be expended by both proposed federal programs would be federal government funds and public funds. Many of those who are mischaracterizing these funds as 'private funds' are attempting to distort an important public policy debate by employing inaccurate terminology in a manner that would not be accepted by the news media if the question involved federal agencies and programs unrelated to abortion."
The credits have nothing to do with the Hyde Amendment. And even if they did, the Hyde Amendment requires annual reauthorization. There's no guarantee of that in this Congress — a Congress in which the speaker all but gives the cold shoulder to even members of her own party who are concerned about these questions about abortion and the health-carepalooza.
That Obama's White House would mislead Americans in this way is no surprise. We were, in fact, warned. Back when Obama was running for president, his campaign protested the "outrageous lies" being told about his record as a state senator, when he advocated against a law that would protect the lives of infants who survived abortions in Illinois. The campaign insisted, "The suggestion that Obama — the proud father of two little girls — and others who opposed these bills supported infanticide is deeply offensive and insulting. There is no room for these kinds of distortions and lies in this campaign." The campaign never managed to explain how the National Right to Life Committee, which had most extensively and prominently raised the points, was lying. It couldn't, because the facts were the facts (and nrlc.org lays them out extensively, then and now; yourhealthcare411.com from the Bioethics Defense Fund also does a thorough job). But the table-pounding worked to obscure the debate. And now the strategy is being repeated.
Joe Wilson apologized for his outburst. When will the White House show a little respect?
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.