Abortion-related provisions delaying passage of spending bills in Congress
Congress has until Friday at midnight to pass 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2012, as well as stopgap spending legislation to keep the government running until Dec. 16 while lawmakers continue to debate more controversial spending measures. As the Associated Press reports, if the stopgap measure does not pass, Americans are yet again threatened with a partial federal government shutdown this weekend.
Abortion is among the controversial issues lawmakers are debating. On Tuesday, the Senate attempted to pass a so-called “minibus” — three appropriations bills — but failed, action for which the anti-abortion rights group the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is taking credit.
After a day of confusing procedural attempts to wrangle an appropriations minibus to the floor for debate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) conceded Tuesday night that he was disappointed at the lack of movement.
Earlier in the day there was a kerfuffle on the Senate floor when Reid tried to offer versions of the minibus containing funding for state and foreign operations, financial services and water and energy. An eclectic group of senators, from the right and left, took issue with the spending bills for various reasons including opposition to abortion funding, opposition to a measure that would have lowered trade barriers with Cuba and accusations that they simply spent too much money.
That complex procedural exchange baffled some Senate staff and apparently even the floor managers for the pending water and energy bill.
The controversial abortion-related amendments include:
- Removing an existing ban on government funding of abortion in D.C.
- Removing a ban on federal employees being able to choose health plans that cover abortion.
- Abolishing the so-called “Mexico City Policy,” enacted under President Ronald Reagan, which bars funding to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide family-planning services overseas if they also perform or promote abortion services.
NRLC is taking credit for how the Senate floor proceedings went Tuesday, claiming that anti-abortion-rights Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) denied Reid the unanimous consent required to pass the minibus because of a “successful strategy pursued by NRLC.”
NRLC believes the debate is over, but Reid is still hoping the Senate can come to an agreement on the minibus before the week’s end.
Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee Chair drafted a proposal this week that would grant the District of Columbia autonomy over how to spend its own money so as to prevent Congress from using D.C. as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations. There’s one exception to the committee’s proposal: The District would not be able to spend its own funds for abortion services, unlike the nation’s 50 states, who have that authority.