By Mike Lillis - 04/13/11 11:53 PM EDT
Female Democratic senators threatening to oppose a 2011 spending bill if it scales back women’s healthcare services are not including abortion restrictions in the District of Columbia in their threat.
The lawmakers are, instead, making clear that their support for the proposed continuing resolution hinges largely on the fate of two GOP amendments — one to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and the other to repeal the new healthcare reform law — slated for an upper-chamber vote on Thursday.
“Even though there are certainly things in there that I’m concerned about, I think it’s very important to complete the budget for this year,” she explained.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) offered a similar message Wednesday. While conceding that Democrats “did lose some ground on a couple of areas” such as funding for abortions in D.C., Boxer said party negotiators fared well relative to the initial demands of House Republicans.
“Compared to what they were going to do — to women, to children, to health research, to college students, to healthcare, to everything that I hold dear — we beat them just pretty handily in most cases,” Boxer said.
If the two GOP amendments fail on Thursday, she added, “I’m leaning in favor of it.”
As part of the White House’s 2011 spending deal with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), President Obama agreed to language barring the District of Columbia from using local taxpayer dollars to fund abortion services for low-income women.
Obama accepted the provision after Democrats in both chambers threatened to kill the underlying continuing resolution (CR) if it included much broader cuts for Title X programs like Planned Parenthood, which operate nationwide.
Those threats were hardly veiled.
“To think that this government could shut down because there’s a group of people over in the House, Republicans, who are so extreme that they would stop women’s health programs is extraordinary,” Boxer said at a press conference last Friday, just hours before the CR deal was finalized. “We are determined to draw the line in the sand. There are moments when you must do that, and this is one of those moments.”
The line in the sand, however, does not extend to the D.C. abortion provision.
“I was talking about Title X,” Boxer said Wednesday.
The debate has frustrated D.C. lawmakers, who have long fought for more autonomy over how the city spends its taxpayer dollars. Last month, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) wrote a letter to Obama urging the president not to use Washington as a “bargaining chip” during the negotiations with Boehner.
“Allowing prohibition on using the city’s own funds to give choice to low-income women would send the wrong signal from Democrats,” she wrote. “If the administration and congressional Democrats do not keep the anti-home-rule riders out of the CR, it will only embolden House Republicans to escalate their attacks on the District.”
Aside from the abortion restrictions, the final CR agreement includes funding for a controversial school voucher program in D.C. — a program long championed by Boehner.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is still weighing whether she’ll support a clean CR, criticized the inclusion of the D.C. abortion provision in the final deal, saying “it makes it difficult to vote for.”
Still, the Washington Democrat said she won’t hinge her final decision on that provision alone.
“It’s one of the things that’s weighing on me as I make my decision,” she said. “It’s important to move on. We need to put this debate behind us.”
Stabenow on Wednesday suggested that, because the CR expires in October, Congress could overturn the D.C. abortion restrictions sometime down the road.
“It’s a five-month policy,” Stabenow said, “and hopefully it will be revisited.”
But Norton has cast doubts on that possibility, warning that the changes will become entrenched if they become law this week.
“If any D.C. riders are included in the CR,” Norton warned, “that acquiescence by Democrats will make it nearly impossible to argue that they should be kept out of the fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013 spending bills.”