There’s a reason Congress hasn’t passed all 12 appropriations bills since 1997 — it’s a messy, tedious, and time-consuming process. But more than that, it has the uncomfortable tendency to expose a party’s deep ideological cracks. Those differences of opinion can be fatal for spending debates, especially when you’re the party in charge. And while none of this is news to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), it will be news if he can find a way to work through it.
When Johnson was promoted, he knew the appropriations part of his to-do list would be a challenge. Like everyone else, he’d watched former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) get stung by the GOP’s moderates more than once. In July, the group of a dozen or so even managed to temporarily sink the Agriculture funding bill, claiming that conservatives shouldn’t try to limit abortion drugs by mail.
Now, days away from a potential government shutdown, almost a dozen of those same agitators are doing their best to kill pro-life language in the Financial Services package — setting up an interesting showdown over a core value of Johnson’s and the rest of his party.
At the center of this brouhaha is a 2014 D.C. law that Family Research Council actually fought alongside other conservative groups: the so-called Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act. Democrats in the District claimed it would protect employees who support abortions from intolerance at work. In actuality, pro-lifers argued, it’s a backdoor attempt to force Christian and other conservative employers to pay for the taking of innocent life and also force them to hire people openly hostile to their values.
Then-Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Casey Mattox blasted D.C. for trying to strip the conscience rights of organizations under such an innocuous sounding proposal. “The government has no business forcing pro-life organizations to hire those who oppose their mission or to force any employer to pay for abortions,” he insisted. “…[T]his is a cynical bill targeted at religious and other pro-life groups. It is illegal and doomed to defeat. The District should spare its taxpayers the expense of defending it.”
It was such a contentious issue that the House voted to strike down the policy in 2015 — the first time it had exercised its authority over D.C. on “ideological grounds” in 35 years. Unfortunately, the Senate never followed suit, so the policy has been entangled in lawsuits and congressional squabbling ever since. Almost a decade later, Republicans continue to insist — as they did in this draft bill — that it should be stopped.
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The GOP’s liberal social wing disagrees. As many as 10 of them, including Reps. Nancy Mace (S.C.), Marc Molinaro (N.Y.), Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.), John Duarte (Calif.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), and Don Bacon (Nebr.), claim to be in districts where these innocuous provisions don’t fly. “A lot of us in swing districts — and a lot of us that want to be very respectful of where the American people are and aren’t on these social issues — are standing our ground and setting some limits as to what can get jammed into these bills,” Duarte told The Washington Post.
Molinaro went so far as to argue that Congress shouldn’t be meddling in D.C. policy — a ridiculous suggestion considering that the House has the constitutional duty to provide oversight for the District, a non-state. “The city of Washington, D.C., has established a nondiscrimination provision,” he said. “It is both their right to do so within the city — but it is also not something the House should seek to eliminate and undermine those protections.”
If conservatives insist on including this language, Molinaro vowed, the bill will be dead on arrival. Those threats are vexing to members like Rep. Troy Nehls, who just want to move the ball forward on a provision that was never controversial until now. “You get all these individual members that say, ‘I don’t like that. … If I don’t get what I want, I’m going to take my sack lunch and I’m going home.’ I think that’s what we’re seeing play out here.”
Gumming up the wheels over something like this is “absurd,” FRC’s Quena Gonzalez argued. “Every year since , whether Republicans have been in the majority in the House or in the minority in the House, Republicans have supported a policy rider [to undo this law]. … This has not been controversial,” he reiterated to “Washington Watch” guest host and former Congressman Jody Hice. “Republicans in the House passed this every year, and moderate Republicans never objected. So it’s a little wild to hear them saying now that this is ‘off-the-wall’ or ‘crazy’ policy. This is standard policy. It’s one of dozens of pro-life riders that we see pass every year.”
For it suddenly to become “a big deal,” Gonzalez pointed out, “is really a false assertion.” “There are, so far, six Republicans who have gone on record as opposing [Financial Services] funding bill on this very benign, regularly presented, and regularly passed provision that I just described. … [And] some of these folks actually ran as pro-life, so it’s quite surprising to see them come out…”
The reality is, Speaker Johnson has a razor-thin margin in the House. “He can only lose four votes. If he loses five Republican votes, he cannot pass a bill that Democrats oppose. … I think some of these moderate to left-leaning Republicans on the life issue have decided that suddenly they’re senators and they can put a hold on the law. And that’s just not how the House works. And so they need to be called to account. The House of Representatives is called the People’s House, and the people need to call their House.”
It’s unconscionable that a handful of Republicans would decide to exploit the GOP’s narrow majority for the sole purpose of furthering Joe Biden’s abortion agenda. Frankly, FRC’s Meg Kilgannon told The Washington Stand, “The fact that Republicans dare to support this effort is astonishing and disqualifies them as representatives of the Republican Party or GOP values.”
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