There was a lot of wheeling and dealing that went down to get the tax bill passed in both chambers of Congress this week, and one of them hinges on a health care funding bill that Senator Mitch McConnell promised to Maine Senator Susan Collins. The bill has to be voted on by Friday to avoid a partial shutdown of the government, but as always, some legislators are putting their own ideology ahead of what’s best for Americans. Some Republicans are threatening to shut down the government for what amounts to stronger abortion restrictions, because the existing language in the bill preventing federal money from funding abortion apparently isn’t good enough.
Anti-abortion activists in Congress just won’t quit.
Here’s what happened: The GOP needed all Republicans on their side to guarantee that they could pass the tax bill and feel like they actually accomplished something this year, so they made a lot of promises to individual state senators. Collins was bothered by the fact that the tax bill included what was essentially a skinny repeal of the Affordable Care Act, by repealing the individual mandate. She asked for McConnell’s word that they would pass a health care bill this week that would give states more money to beef up their health care markets to help “expensive” sick people and reimburse insurers for giving discounted deductibles and copays to low-income patients, which is called “cost sharing.” Cost sharing is always a big deal for Republicans who don’t want to pay for things they find “bad,” like abortion, birth control, and anything that prioritizes a woman’s access to affordable reproductive health care.
The issue for anti-abortion activists is that the cost sharing funds can sometimes go to health care centers that offer abortion services. The ACA mandates that those centers keep federal funds separate from abortion services, but Republicans just don’t think that’s good enough, and they’re throwing a fit to get the Hyde Amendment added into the bill. Hyde language is an explicit caveat added to basically every piece of legislation that makes it illegal for any organization to use federal cash to provide abortions. It’s basically why the whole “taxpayers shouldn’t pay for abortions” argument is total nonsense, since no federal dollars currently fund abortions anyway.
Democrats think that’s totally overreaching in this case, so it’s a “non-starter,” according to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. Which means they’re at a stalemate. If no one budges, the government will shut down like it did back in October 2013.
The issue is a non-starter for Republicans, too. “It needs to have Hyde,” said Rep. Chris Smith, who is also a co-chairman of the bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus. In the Senate, since they made a promise to Collins, the bill could pass. But the House is a whole other ballgame. Rep. Mark Walker, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, which is the largest group of conservative activists in the House, told Reuters that Collins’ agreement “means squat over [in the House.]”
Lovely, right? It’s even trickier, according to Ohio Rep. Tim Cole, since Republicans don’t want to be doing anything at all to make it look like they’re keeping the ACA on life support. The abortion thing just makes it worse for them. Cole thinks it comes down to Speaker Paul Ryan. “I think [Ryan] listens to his members, and I think he got a lot of pushback on that today,” Cole told The Hill. “There’s no stronger pro-life person than Paul Ryan. That’s never coming through here without Hyde language in it.”
This is not just an issue for legislators. This is all the doing of a super scary organization that we should all pay more attention to: the Susan B. Anthony List. Their name suggests they should be a pro-woman group, but they’re not. They lobby for abortion restrictions and have been particularly emboldened by Trump’s (and really, Mike Pence’s) anti-abortion views, going so far as to fight for the repeal of Roe v. Wade. They wrote to lawmakers of the upcoming vote:
So they’ve set up a situation in which no one wins. If the Democrats budge in the name of keeping the government up and running, they’re caving to Republicans — and anti-abortion lobbyists, really — who have lost their grip on reality (since, once again, there is Hyde language all over these bills anyway) and allow the language into the bill. That’s not a great long-game strategy when it comes to introducing some common sense and science into legislation around abortion. If they don’t, the government could shut down, and we’ll have to watch Ryan and McConnell point fingers at the Democrats even though it would be their own fault. Ugh, and the inevitable Trump tweets? There’s no good outcome here.
Hopefully, there’s an adult in Congress who can show the anti-choice Republicans that no federal funds have paid for abortions since 1976 when the Hyde Amendment was first introduced, and there’s definitely no federal money for abortions under the ACA.