Update: As expected, the House passed H.R. 7 by a 238-183. It moves on to the Senate. Three Democrats vote in favor of the legislation. They are Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Dan Lipinski (IL-03), and Collin Peterson (MN-07).
Cuellar represents a D+7 district in south-central Texas. Again, this means that on average, his district votes 7 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole. Lipinski, as I mentioned, represents a D+5. Peterson is in a slightly different situation, representing an R+6 in rural Minnesota.
Congress, having exhausted themselves already, work a short week this week. Republicans are headed out-of-town on a retreat to Philadelphia Wednesday, but before they go, they are expected to vote Tuesday to pass the lengthily titled H.R. 7.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican who was sworn into the House at the same time Ronald Reagan became president. Trump won his district by 15 points despite losing the state of New Jersey badly, and Smith routinely gets reelected with between 60 and 70 percent of the vote. Despite being in Congress for almost four decades he’s best known for, well, nothing. He’s second best known for making interns interested in working for him rate organizations, personalities, and political issues with a plus, minus, or zero in order to make sure they sufficiently agreed with him enough to open his mail. This is all just a long-winded way of saying that maybe term limits and nonpartisan redistricting aren’t such bad ideas. But I digress.
Smith’s legislation, if enacted, would prohibit federal funds from being used for abortions. The first section reads*:
Prohibition on funding for abortions
No funds authorized or appropriated by Federal law, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by Federal law, shall be expended for any abortion.
If you think this rings a bell, it should. The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funding of abortion. What HR 7 would do is make it permanent by passing it with standalone legislation. Right now, the Hyde Amendment exists as a rider that is attached every year to an appropriation bill. In many ways, this is a symbolic gesture, a way of appearing to strengthen Hyde without really changing the status quo. In other words, the kind of legislation Congress loves, because it makes it look like they’re doing something when they really aren’t.
It’s in section two where things get a bit more real:
Prohibition on funding for health benefits plans that cover abortion
None of the funds authorized or appropriated by Federal law, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by Federal law, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.
If I’m understanding this correctly (and I’m pretty sure I am) this legislation would also prohibit anyone from using subsidies received through Obamacare to buy plans that cover abortions. So, if you’re a low-income individual that qualifies for a subsidy to lower the cost of your insurance, you would be left with fewer options to choose from when shopping for a plan, regardless of your feelings about abortion. Further sections of the bill make it clear that it’s not imposing barriers to you buying your own abortion-inclusive plan with your own money, but for Obamacare enrolees who depend on those federal subsidies to make coverage affordable (the whole point of the ACA to begin with), they’d be restricted. After years of complaints from Republicans about the lack of choice in the health care market, this would lead to even less choice for subsidized policy holders.
In fact, it seems to me that this legislation is less about restricting federal money for abortion (again, already being done) and perhaps more about kicking a leg out from under Obamacare by making it harder for the people who need the law the most to find coverage. You have the strictly ceremonial section reasserting Hyde, but then you have a further restriction that actually has very little to do with the morality of abortion and everything to do with a partisan grudge. Again, if I’m correct even men would be impacted by this “anti-abortion” measure because they would have fewer health insurance plans to choose from under the bill’s second provision.
It’s important to mention that some version of this bill gets voted on (and usually passes) the House in just about every session as part as the GOP’s continuing attempts to undercut Planned Parenthood. Earlier versions were passed in 2014 by a vote of 227-188, and in 2015 by 242-179. You can click on the links to see how your member of Congress voted. It will probably pass again this year. The question will then become if it can make it through the Senate to President Trump’s desk.
The folks at PredictGov currently give the legislation an 11% chance of being enacted based on historical predictors of success, but what those mean in a post-Trump world, I’m not sure. The bad news is that Trump has been eager to prove his pro-life bona fides from the get-go and would undoubtedly sign the legislation should it arrive. The good news is that it’s extremely unlikely that there are 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
But whatever the prospects of this specific bill, this is a perfect example of the type of issue progressives need to perk up on. Do a search online for this legislation, and almost all of the top news sites covering it are conservative and/or anti-abortion outlets. It’s the exact type of thing that one side cares about far more, and far more often, than the other. If this bill fails, you can rest assured there will be another. And another. Not only is it chronologically the first piece of legislation we should pay attention to, it’s the perfect example of the sort of legislation we should pay attention to.
This means you have two courses of action if this is legislation you worry about. You can call your representatives now – if your Senator is a Republican, to express your opposition to the bill, and if they are a Democrat to make sure they are firm in their efforts to block it. You can also call your member of Congress. While the bill is, again, almost certain to pass on Tuesday, it has passed with Democratic support in the past, lending it the patina of “bipartisanship.” In fact, it has a Democratic co-sponsor in Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois. Rep. Lipinski lives in a D+5 district, which is shorthand for saying that it generally votes 5 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole. Perhaps he should be reminded of this.
In fact, I haven’t been able to find much, if anything in the way of statements from Members of Congress about the bill one way or the other, so if you do call your representative, be sure to share what they say. You may break a little bit of news.
I’ll update this post as events warrant.
*All citations directly from the bill attributable to H.R. 7 — 115th Congress: No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017.” http://www.GovTrack.us. 2017. January 23, 2017