Interview with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell

Interview with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell

By Rachel Maddow Show - November 12, 2009

RACHEL MADDOW: Joining us now is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Gov. Rendell, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight. Appreciate it.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA): My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW: Do you think that this debate over the Stupak Amendment - the issue of abortion has become big and divisive enough among Democrats that it does pose a real threat to health reform passing?

RENDELL: I think it poses a threat unless the Democrats in Congress take a deep breath and remember what we‘re here for. We‘re here to enact health reform that‘s desperately needed.

There is a woman in Erie, Pennsylvania, who‘s got breast cancer and can‘t get health care because it‘s a preexisting condition. And that‘s almost like a death sentence for her. And that‘s what we‘re fighting for and we‘ve got to take a deep breath and not fight collateral battles. Health reform is so important for this country that it‘s got to supersede all of this stuff.

And by the way, Rachel, your analysis is absolutely right. Take a small business that‘s receiving a tax credit, a federal tax credit, to provide health care for its employees.

They would be barred under the Stupak Amendment from allowing their employees to use their - the health care that they offer them for abortion. They would be absolutely disallowed from doing that.

And it‘s not even clear that if you compartmentalized you could do it in any event. So I think that the amendment, when people take a look at it, they‘ll either do the compromise amendment or do nothing, heeding the president, who says, look, this is about health care. It‘s not about abortion. The law is clear that federal money can‘t be used for abortions right now. Let‘s leave it right there.

MADDOW: That compromise language which would be about having separate pools of money, public money and private money, so that the public money couldn‘t be spent on abortions. Again, the Catholic Church‘s argument against that was that it was just an accounting gimmick, that there isn‘t really a way to keep funds separate.

I pointed out the hypocrisy in that given that the church is very happy to take public money to do things that other parts of its mission wouldn‘t allow them to take public money for.

But is there any reason to believe, just in terms of policy and what you‘ve seen, that a process of separating public and private money would be unwieldy, that it wouldn‘t work in some way?

RENDELL: It would be difficult. Let‘s take that small business again. Literally, what the small business would have to do is say the money that we‘re putting in is used for offering abortion services. The money that the federal government is giving us with the tax credit is not.

It would be very difficult to do but not impossible. Not impossible. And your analogy is a very, very good one. Under the law, the government, whether it‘s state, local or federal, cannot give the Catholic Church or any religious institution money directly.

But virtually, every religious institution, including the catholic church, now has 501©(3)s which have as their mission providing child care or after-school tutoring or whatever.

Yes, we can and often do, every level of government, contribute money to those sort of adjunct separate pools of dollars that are used for a public purpose, not for promoting religion. So there is that separation, as you point out.

MADDOW: Any time a member of Congress starts using phrases in public like "double-cross" and "hell to pay" about his own party, it‘s clear that there‘s some sort of rift going on in the party.

But you‘ve been in this business a long time. You‘ve seen a lot of these in the party fights. How serious do you think this is? And do you think it gets healed before the final vote?

RENDELL: Well, I think it‘s serious, but I do think it gets healed before the final vote. Because I think if there‘s a final bill that comes out of the conference committee and goes back to the House, you are going to have to be incredibly dumb and incredibly unfeeling to jeopardize national health reform on this issue.

And this issue, when, again, the federal proviso is very clear. Federal dollars cannot be used for abortion. Let‘s leave it there and let‘s remember our mission. Our mission is desperately needed.

There are people out there who may not survive unless we do health care reform. There are people out there who go to emergency rooms six months too late to really solve their problem. Sure, they get care, but it‘s too late to really save them.

That‘s one of the basic things we‘re fighting for. And people have to keep their eye on the ball and understand what the real issue is here. And I believe, in the end, very few congressmen are going to cast a no vote on a bill that they‘re in favor of because it doesn‘t include the Stupak Amendment.

MADDOW: Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, thanks very much for joining us tonight, sir. Appreciate it.

RENDELL: My pleasure.


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