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Stupak: No Regrets Over Key Health Care Law Vote

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Bart Stupak (credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Bart Stupak (credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

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LANSING (AP) – Former Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak had to endure death threats and screams of “baby killer!” for lending his crucial support to the federal health care law once President Barack Obama pledged to sign an executive order reinforcing that no federal health care funds would be spent on abortion.

Far from having regrets, the 59-year-old former state trooper from Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula says he’d do it all again.

“I’m proud of my votes and my service,” Stupak, who doesn’t support abortion rights, recently told students at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. There were days, however, where “I never felt so alone.”

Stupak, now an attorney with the Washington firm Venable LLP, told The Associated Press by phone this week that the cutthroat pursuit of campaign cash is responsible for the deterioration in the nation’s political discourse.

For example, he said, Texas Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer was essentially rewarded, though an increase in campaign donations, for a major breach of etiquette last year when he shouted “baby killer” while Stupak was addressing the House before it passed the health care law.

Neugebauer insisted his exact words were “it’s a baby killer,” and that his outburst was directed at the wording of the legislation that Stupak helped work out with the White House, not Stupak himself. Stupak still said he felt personally attacked despite the Texas Republican’s apology the next day.

He noted that after GOP Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled out “you lie” while Obama was addressing Congress on the health care issue in 2009, Wilson drew campaign donations from across the country, began regularly appearing on cable TV news shows and became a sought-after guest at Republican fundraisers.

“When you insult the president or any other member … you have your Internet page up and raising money before you even apologize. It’s all motivated by money,” Stupak said. “We’ve lost all control over fundraising.”

The nine-term congressman received a flood of threat-filled phone and fax messages to his office after his health care vote, including one caller who said between curses, “I hope you bleed … (get) cancer and die.” A fax carried a picture of a gallows with “Bart (SS) Stupak” on it and a noose with the caption, “All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends Either by the hand of man or by the hand of God.”

One constituent, 74-year-old Russell Hesch of West Branch, accused Stupak of selling his soul to the devil and wrote that he would paint the Mackinac Bridge “with the blood of you and your family members.” Hesch pleaded guilty last month to threatening Stupak and his family and could spend up to a year in prison when sentenced Dec. 15.

At the time, Stupak said he had always wanted to see a national health care bill passed and wasn’t intimidated by the threats, although he did agree to police protection. He said he decided not to run again last year because after 18 years in Congress and two years in the Michigan House, he wanted to try something else before he retired.

Stupak left elected office, but he keeps a close eye on Washington politics.

He chided Obama’s jobs plan, saying it should go farther to boost the economy. While he supports the plan, he said the president isn’t explaining to middle class voters why spending more federal money to save teachers’, firefighters’ and police officers’ jobs means a better education for their children and making sure they have adequate police and fire protection.

Voters see the proposal “as more big government,” Stupak said. “You have to put it in realistic terms that the voter, who has no contact with government, understands. … What he (Obama) is doing is correct. His approach is wrong.”

Stupak thinks Michigan native Mitt Romney will nab the GOP presidential nomination and be popular with Michigan voters, but he isn’t worried Obama will lose the state. He said the federal loans Obama pushed through to keep General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC afloat as they went through bankruptcy in 2009 has paid off in stronger companies that are adding back jobs, boosting the state’s economy.

“When he reminds people about that, I think they’re going to vote for President Obama,” Stupak said.

He’d like to see public funding of congressional races, saying the $3.4 million cost of the average congressional run means only millionaires or prolific fundraisers can run. He criticized the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that eased restrictions on corporate spending in political campaigns, saying the huge undisclosed contributions businesses now can make to outside groups is corrupting the political process.

“Who you going to listen to? Your constituents or the people who gave you money?” Stupak said. He warned if the floodgate isn’t closed, “it will destroy our democracy.”

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.

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