And suddenly, there was a culture war.
In the midst of a dour and serious fiscal debate about health care policy -- libertarians in stockings! Congressional ventriloquy! Senators! Working on Saturdays! -- there's suddenly all this sinceriousness about abortion.
After months of debate, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to allow anti-abortion Democrats to propose tight restrictions barring any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies from covering abortions.
The anti-abortion amendment was primarily sponsored by Michigan Rep. Bart Stupakhe, whose name Pelosi, like a wizened Homer Simpson, is surely repeating as she pounds her head in frustration. "Stupakhe! Stupakhe! Stupakhe!"
Because now, the battle over health care -- which we're re-jiggering because of the current system's deleterious effects on the economy, right? -- is all about abortion. Abortion rights Democrats, angered at the new restrictions, are now vowing to block final passage of the bill if the amendment stays.
That's just ... Stupak.
Pelosi did what she had to get health care passed in the House. But in doing so, she's allowed the conversation to shift from the economy (subsidy rates, mandates, public-private competition, etc) to the culture (godless baby killers!).
And that's never an advantageous discussion for Democrats.
If Congress wants to pass health care reform legislation, they'd do well to move beyond the abortion questions as quickly and quietly as possible.
Easier said than done. But easier passed if compromised.