Abortion, farm bills advance in the House

The House on Tuesday afternoon took a step toward passing two controversial bills — one permanently banning taxpayer-funded abortion and the other spending $1 trillion on farm programs over the next decade.

Members voted 224-192 in favor of a rule governing floor consideration of both bills after a debate that focused mostly on the abortion bill.

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The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 7, would lock in place the ban on federal funds being used for abortion. The ban, called the Hyde Amendment, has been approved each year for decades as a condition on federal healthcare spending. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said that annual policy rider has helped stop millions of abortions and that Congress should make this policy permanent.

"This means that millions of Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment," she said. "After 38 years, it is time for this life-saving amendment to become permanent law."

Republicans noted that Democrats just a few weeks ago approved the Hyde Amendment as part of the omnibus spending bill. They said that approval shows how noncontroversial the permanent measure should be. But Democrats countered that the bill is unnecessary precisely because Congress continues to approve the rider annually.

"This bill is a hoax," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). "Federal taxpayer [money] is not spent on abortion."

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argued that Republicans shouldn't have called up such a controversial bill on the same day President Obama will address Congress in his State of the Union address. "On a day when we should join him in laying out a vision of opportunity and optimism for our country, Republicans are voting to limit women's healthcare decisions," she said.

The Obama administration says it opposes the bill, and on Monday the White House said Obama would veto the bill if it ever made it to his desk.

During the floor debate, Slaughter said the bill is really an attack on ObamaCare, because it would end the payment of federal subsidies to people who use the healthcare law to buy health insurance that covers abortion. Slaughter said that change would chip away at women's rights by imposing a financial hurdle to getting an abortion and accused Republican men of coming up with a policy that no woman wants.

"This has been a problem for a long time. Men in blue suits and red ties determining what women can and should do when it comes to their own health," she said.

Republicans said ObamaCare needs to be tweaked because it requires taxpayers to subsidize the purchase of health plans that cover abortion, which frustrates the intent of the Hyde Amendment.

"The president's healthcare law authorized massive federal subsidies to assist millions of Americans to purchase private health plans that will cover abortion on demand," Foxx said. "In other words, hard-earned taxpayer dollars are now being used to pay for elective abortions."

While Democrats said the bill is an attack on women's rights, Republicans refuted that and said many polls show that a majority of women and a majority of all respondents do not want their health insurance to cover abortion.

The rule also covers the House-Senate agreement on the farm bill, H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. That bill is controversial for both parties — many Democrats will oppose the $8 billion in food stamp cuts, while many Republicans want steeper cuts to federal farm programs.

Despite the split on the actual legislation, parties largely stuck to their expected positions during the rule vote. Every Republican voted for the rule, and just two Democrats broke ranks to vote with the GOP.

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