By TRISH CHOATE
Scripps Howard News Service
March 22, 2010
The latest breach of that decorum occurred during Sunday's debate over the health-care reform measure, which was wrapped in overheated emotion and hyper-partisanship.
The consensus among observers was that Sunday's shouted smear was directed at Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan and a fervent anti-abortion lawmaker. Stupak was one of the longest holdouts, pushing for restrictions on using federal funds for abortion before he would give his party's leaders his pivotal vote.
It was as Stupak spoke to explain his decision that the phrase "baby killer" was yelled from the floor. Sunday night, the identity of the yeller remained unclear.
But on Monday, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, a conservative from the western reaches of the state, fessed up.
He said he exclaimed, "It's a baby killer!," which he said referred to the agreement that allowed the bill to pass, not to the Democratic lawmaker himself.
Neugebauer acknowledged that his outburst, whatever it was, was out of line and said he had apologized to Stupak and his House colleagues.
"While I remain heartbroken over the passage of this bill and the tragic consequences it will have for the unborn, I deeply regret that my actions were mistakenly interpreted as a direct reference to Congressman Stupak himself," Neugebauer said in a statement.
"The House chamber is a place of decorum and respect. The timing and tone of my comment last night was inappropriate," said Neugebauer, a four-term congressman whose district includes a flat swath of Texas encompassing Lubbock and Abilene.
Stupak dropped his opposition to the reform bill after reaching an agreement with President Barack Obama, who will issue an executive order saying taxpayer funding couldn't be used for health-care plans covering abortion.
It was Obama who was the target of the earlier outburst -- "You lie!" -- flung his way Sept. 8 by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., as Obama addressed the health-care issue before Congress.
Wilson later apologized to Obama and said he would never repeat his act, but refused to deliver a formal apology on the House floor. A week later, the House voted to admonish Wilson for his display of disrespect. It was the first time in the 220-year history of the House that a member was so admonished for disrupting a speech by the president, historians said.
But for Wilson, the episode had a lucrative side, generating a flow of campaign contributions to him from those who shared his point of view.
House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Monday that Neugebauer's apology was enough and no further action is needed.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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