On Saturday, the Senate voted to move forward and debate on the health care reform, but many of the continuing talks on the issue are still circling around the same fault lines of party affiliation and religion.
The two bills do have some common ground:
Both bills would require all Americans to carry health insurance, with government help to make premiums more affordable. They would ban insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more to people with health problems. They would set up new insurance markets for those who now have the hardest time finding and keeping coverage - self-employed people and small businesses. Americans insured through big employer plans would gain new consumer protections but wouldn't face major changes. Seniors would get better prescription coverage.
A bitter dispute over abortion that prompted Rhode Island's Roman Catholic bishop to ask Rep. Patrick Kennedy not to receive Holy Communion has revealed the depth of the divide among Catholics over how politicians should reconcile their faith with their public duties.
Bishop Thomas Tobin on Sunday said he made the request because of the Democratic lawmaker's support for abortion rights. The news prompted debate among Catholics around the country and within the bishop's flock in the nation's most Catholic state about whether it was right for Tobin to publicly shame Kennedy for breaking with the church on what its leaders consider a paramount moral issue. [...]
Their dispute began in October when Kennedy criticized Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose an overhaul of the nation's health care system unless lawmakers included tighter restrictions on abortion, which have since been added to the House version of the bill. Tobin said he felt Kennedy made an unprovoked attack on the church and demanded an apology.
Since then, their feud has played out in public. Tobin, who has said he might have gone into politics were he not ordained, has written sharp public letters questioning Kennedy's faith and saying his position is scandalous and unacceptable to the church. Kennedy has said his disagreement with the church hierarchy does not make him any less of a Catholic.
This isn't the first time a question of Catholicism and politics made waves in public:
In 1984, former Democratic New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Catholic who supported abortion rights and was at the time a potential presidential candidate, delivered a speech at the University of Notre Dame explaining that Catholic lawmakers shouldn't be pressured by church leaders to work for anti-abortion legislation. He said Sunday it's dangerous for the church to pressure politicians because of the potential for unintended consequences.
"If you're required (by the church) to make everybody follow your Catholic role, then nobody would vote for Catholics because it's clear that when you get the authority, you're going to be guided by your faith," the former governor told The Associated Press.
Cuomo said there are two positions a politician can take: They can oppose church doctrine outright or, as he did, accept church teachings personally but refuse to carry them into the public arena where they would affect people of every faith.
"Don't ask me to make everybody live by it because they are not members of the church," Cuomo said. "If that were the operative rule, how could you get any Catholic politician in office? And would that be better for the Catholic church?"
Outside of religion, party politics are looming large over the horizon. Lawmakers are feeling major breaks between the Dems and the GOP, as well as splintering within their own parties:
A leading Senate Democrat said Monday his party is determined to push through a health care overhaul bill with or without Republican support because the "system is broken."
"We prefer to go at it with Republicans if we can reach compromises in some areas," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "But we're not going to not pass a bill."
Schumer dueled with Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on a network morning news show in the wake of a key Senate vote Saturday night that advanced a 10-year, $959 billion health bill to full debate. Hutchison argued that "you're going to put taxes and mandates on business" that would be a drag on an economy still struggling to recover from recession.
Accusations around the political use of the task force recommendations on breast cancer screening have also become a dividing line between Democrats and Republicans: