Democratic ‘centrists’

DEMOCRATIC ‘CENTRISTS’…. Last night, as part of a series of amendments to the omnibus spending bill, Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi hoped to strip the bill of money for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Fortunately, he failed — the amendment only garnered 39 supporters.

But it’s worth looking at the final roll call. The three remaining moderates in the Senate caucus — Collins, Snowe, and Specter — voted with the Democratic majority. But three Democrats — Evan Bayh (Ind.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), and Bob Casey (Pa.) — voted with the Republican minority.

This is crazy.

Indeed, there’s no reason this should even be controversial. In Bush’s first term, the former president intended to maintain UNFPA funding at Clinton-era levels. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “We recognize that UNFPA does invaluable work through its programs in maternal and child health care, voluntary family planning, screening for reproductive tract cancers, breast-feeding promotion and HIV/AIDS prevention.” The administration sought the money, and Congress overwhelmingly approved it.

And then, some right-wing activists with the Bush administration’s ear starting complaining bitterly. Since its inception in 1969, the Fund has won widespread recognition for its work in improving the lives of women in developing countries, but for far-right leaders, most notably in the religious right, UNFPA is a pro-abortion enterprise that supports China’s one-child policy.

Bush put a hold on the money he’d already requested and received, so he could investigate UNFPA’s work in China. When international investigators and a U.S. team found “no evidence that UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” in China, Bush suppressed the findings and blocked the funding anyway. It’s a twisted position he maintained for the rest of his years in office.

Because of Bush’s actions on UNFPA, fewer women in developing countries received pre-natal care, fewer doctors were trained to deal with pregnancy complications, fewer HIV prevention programs could operate, and less medical equipment was made available to expectant mothers.

A few days after his inauguration, President Obama said the U.S. policy would change, and we would go back to supporting the Population Fund, just as presidents from both parties have done for a generation.

Wicker and most of the Republicans tried to keep Bush’s policy in place. That’s not too surprising; their callousness is routine. But three “centrist” Democrats agreed with them.

I don’t know how they could be so heartless.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation