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“Catering To A Small Minority Of Voters”: Don’t Be Fooled; Republicans Are Still As Extreme On Abortion As Ever

A group of Republican men took to the House floor on Wednesday evening and delivered emotional speeches about the need to restrict women’s right to abortion. “A deeply personal issue,” Utah representative Chris Smith noted without a trace of irony, before musing on the pleasures of being a grandfather. Ted Yoho of Florida likened fetuses to an endangered species. “How can we as a nation have laws that protect the sea turtle or bald eagle, but yet refuse to protect the same of our own species?” he asked.

Their speeches anticipated a vote on the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. Originally scheduled for Thursday, the vote has now been indefinitely “delayed” because the bill, it turns out, was too extreme even for some members of the GOP. A number of female members objected to a provision that would have exempted rape victims from the ban only after they reported to police. Dissent grew throughout the week, and with as many as two-dozen Republicans ready to vote against the bill by late Wednesday, leaders pulled the whole thing.

Oh, well. Republicans immediately found another piece of bad meat to throw the mass of anti-abortion protestors who descended on Washington on Thursday for the annual March for Life: the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act Titled just as misleadingly as the “Pain-Capable” legislation, this bill would have the most damaging effects in the private insurance marketplace, as Medicaid and other publicly funded programs are already barred from covering abortion services. House Republicans passed that legislation Thursday afternoon, as the anti-choice chants echoed across Capitol Hill.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill “could result in the entire private insurance market dropping abortion coverage, thereby making such coverage unavailable to anyone.” It would permanently codify bans on abortion coverage for federal employees, residents of the District of Columbia, female inmates, women insured through the Indian Health Service, and women covered by Medicaid. It would also raise taxes on most small businesses.

The pivot was pure pandering. Representative Trent Franks, who introduced the twenty week ban along with Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn, had noted previously that the vote was scheduled for the same day at the March for Life because of the “symbolism.” Many of the members who spoke on Wednesday in support of the ban gave more attention to promoting the march than to bill itself. “This week, the defenders of life in the thousands have and will come to Washington DC to support the sanctity of life,” said New Jersey Representative Chris Smith. “I want them to know we will keep fighting to defend the silent, unborn child.”

While reproductive rights groups received the failure of the twenty-week ban with glee, they quickly condemned the scramble to find a substitute bill. “Today’s exercise in the House is not about making public policy, nor is it about helping American women and families. It is about catering to a small minority of voters—anti-abortion activists who are descending on Washington for their annual march,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President (and Nation contributor) Ilyse Hogue in a statement released Thursday.

It’s tempting to probe the political significance of a few female Republicans having the will, and enough muscle, to scuttle a bill that passed the House in similar form just two years ago. Maybe this one instance in which GOP leaders resisted the far-right fringe signals they’re finally waking up to the conclusion, encapsulated in the 2012 election post-mortem, that the party’s long-term success depends on women and minorities. And maybe not. (Call me when the House takes up immigration reform.)

But don’t overestimate the practical significance. Republicans are increasingly policing their optics and broadening their rhetoric—read Ran Paul’s rebuttal to the State of the Union for some silver tongue work concerning poverty, for example—but they are not ending their siege of legal abortion at the federal level or in the states, where the worst damage is being done. This would not be the first time that a high-level Republican chose not to highlight their extreme anti-woman principles and yet stuck to them. The twenty-week ban is likely to come up again this year, and it would be a dangerous bill even with a broader exception for rape victims. And out of the shadow of the March for Life, a vote will still be merely symbolic, as it’s unlikely to get through the Senate or to cross the president’s desk without a veto.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, January 22, 2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Abortion, Reproductive Choice, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Dog’s Life Can Be Dizzying”: The Obamacare Opposition Has Finally Caught Its Own Tail

It’s time to pop the champagne and blow the kazoos: the war on Obamacare has officially reached its point of reductio ad absurdum. Two of the opposition’s favored fevered conspiracy theories about the law have clashed, like two asteroids headed for the planet that smash into each other before they can do any damage below.

First, there was the opposition’s demand that members of Congress and their staff be subjected to Obamacare—that they be forced to give up their coverage in the health plans for federal employees and join the new insurance exchanges on the theory that “if Congress was going to impose Obamacare upon the country, it should have to experience what it is imposing firsthand.” This never really made sense from the outset since the exchanges, at least for the foreseeable future, are meant only for people without employer coverage and for small businesses buying coverage for their workers. That is, most of “the country” is not going to have anything to do with the exchanges—they are just going to keep being covered by their employers.

Forcing the incongruous requirement that Hill employees enter the exchanges resulted, inevitably, in a snafu: the exchanges are not designed for employers and employees to share the cost of plans that are selected by workers, since the exchanges are meant for people buying coverage on their own. Congress, like most large employers, covers the lion’s share of their workers’ premiums, but wasn’t going to be able to do so as the law was written, leaving Hill workers with thousands more dollars a year in premium costs than they now pay. To fix this problem—which was never intended even by the members of Congress who wanted Hill staff to share in the burdens of Obamacare—the administration and Congress agreed on a tweak that would maintain the requirement for congressional staff to enter the exchanges, while allowing for the federal government to pick up its share of the costs. Conservatives decried this as an “exemption” from Obamacare, which was flatly untrue: in fact, the Hill is being included in Obamacare to an extent beyond what the law was built to allow for. For a pithy dismissal of the “exemption” trope, see the recent letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal by the gentleman from Verona.

Meanwhile, opponents of the law have since the early days of its drafting been busy fanning flames on another front as well: charging that the law would allow for federal funding of abortions, which has been barred for years. This line almost managed to stop the legislation in its tracks before supporters settled on a highly unwieldy compromise—plans on the exchanges can cover abortions (as many insurance plans now do) but the abortion coverage must be offered in a supplemental plan, purchased separately from the main coverage, and without the help of the federal subsidies many people will receive to help them buy the plans. This is such a messy arrangement that abortion rights supporters fear that precious few plans on the exchanges will even bother to include abortion coverage. And the law also allows states to pass laws banning abortion coverage, period, from plans in their exchanges, as many states have already done.

Do you see where this is headed? The law forces Congress and its staffers into the exchanges…the law, in theory, allows for plans with abortion coverage to be sold on the exchanges…and, voila, the crash in the skies above. Take it away, Associated Press:

The politics of the abortion debate are always tricky for lawmakers. They may soon get personal. An attempt to fix a problem with the national health care law has created a situation in which members of Congress and their staffers could gain access to abortion coverage. That’s a benefit currently denied to them and to all federal employees who get health insurance through the government’s plan…

Abortion opponents say the regulation would circumvent a longstanding law that bars the use of taxpayer funds for “administrative expenses in connection with any health plan under the federal employees health benefits program which provides any benefits or coverage for abortions.” Unlike many private corporate plans, federal employee plans only cover abortions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

“Under this scheme, (the government) will be paying the administrative costs,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., author of the abortion funding ban for federal employee plans. “It’s a radical deviation and departure from current federal law, and it’s not for all federal employees, but for a subset: Congress. Us.” Smith is calling on the Obama administration to specify that lawmakers and staffers must choose a plan that does not cover abortions. The funding ban, in place since the 1980s, is known as the Smith amendment.

This framing is actually off the mark. It’s not “an attempt to fix a problem” with the law that has created this situation. It was the original demand by Republicans (Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley led the way) that members of Congress and their staff be forced into the exchanges. The administration is downplaying the whole matter, noting that, technically, Hill members and staffers who buy a plan on the exchanges that comes with the abortion coverage will be paying for that part of the coverage out of their own pocket. But yes, in theory, a member of Congress and his or her staff may now be able to have abortion coverage, which was not the case previously. The horror! After all, we know that some members of Congress have a messy track record with abortions—like, say, demanding that their mistresses get one.

So, tiger, how does that tail of yours taste?

By: Alec MacGillis, Senior Editor, The New Republic, August 20, 2013

August 26, 2013 Posted by | Abortion, Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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