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Bishops not backing health care repeal

January 20, 2011, 1:08 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops received considerable attention and criticism for their opposition to final passage of the Affordable Care Act last year. Given the stakes of the debate and flaws in the USCCB’s analysis of the bill’s restrictions on federal funding of abortion, some questioned the strength of the bishops conference’s stated commitment to universal health care. So it struck me as noteworthy that the bishops did not support House Republicans’ effort to repeal health care reform. RNS’s Daniel Burke filed a story on this today:

The U.S. Catholic bishops will not join efforts to repeal the new health care law, even though they staunchly opposed the bill last year after concluding it permits federally funded abortions.

Instead of pushing repeal, the bishops said Tuesday (Jan. 18) they will devote their energy “to correcting serious moral problems in the current law,” according to a letter sent to Capitol Hill from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop Stephen Blaire, and Archbishop Jose Gomez, who all chair political committees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, echoed that message in a separate letter to all 535 members of Congress outlining the bishops’ top political priorities.

By not supporting House Republicans’ campaign to repeal the health care law, the bishops averted another clash with Catholic health care workers and nuns, who had bucked the hierarchy last year by publicly backing the bill.

I don’t want to read too much into this, but the bishops’ divergence from the GOP’s commitment to wholesale repeal of the Affordable Care Act signals a serious weakening of the bloc of religious groups that aligned against the legislation last year. Imagine for a moment that a major protestant denomination that supported health care reform last year turned around and backed repeal on the grounds that the Affordable Care Act did not provide truly universal coverage. That would send shockwaves among faith groups that worked hard to pass health care reform. I wonder what Christian leaders who opposed reform last year have to say about the USCCB’s new position. Given the contrast between the Catholic church’s longtime support for the principle of universal health care and the religious right’s rejection of this priority, this division was bound to come back to the surface sooner or later.

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