House panel advances amendment blocking Pentagon funding for gender transition

House panel advances amendment blocking Pentagon funding for gender transition
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The Rules Committee has voted in favor of sending an amendment to the House floor that would prohibit Pentagon funding from being used for medical care related to gender transition.

The committee’s decision sets up a Thursday fight on the House floor over transgender rights in the military and, possibly, more broadly.

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was filed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.). It would make it so “funds available to the Department of Defense may not be used to provide medical treatment (other than mental health treatment) related to gender transition to a person entitled to medical care.”

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Transgender troops currently in the military have been able to serve openly since last year. The policy also allows them to receive any treatment deemed medically necessary, including surgery and hormone therapy.

The Rules Committee late Wednesday voted 2-8 on party lines against an effort from Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) to block Hartler’s amendment from coming to the House floor.

“What Ms. Hartzler is trying to do would reduce military readiness,” said Polis, co-chairman of Congress's LGBT Equality Caucus. “It would have a negative impact on morale, a negative impact on retention and move us away from the merit-based system which we now have, where we have one set of rules applied to everybody.”

Hartzler did not come to the Rules Committee on Wednesday to argue for her amendment. But she previously spoke about medical costs and her opposition to open service when the Armed Services Committee debated the bill last month.

During the last Armed Services markup, Hartzler claimed that the cost of surgeries alone could reach to $1.35 billion over the next 10 years.

It’s unclear where Hartzler got her figure. In an interview with USA Today, she suggested she and her staff did their own research on the issue.

The Rand Corporation estimated all medical costs for transgender service members would be between about $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.

Still, Hartzler argued the transgender policy harms readiness.

“Military service is a privilege, not a right,” she said last month. “It is predicated on winning wars and defeating the enemy. All decisions on personnel and funding should be made with this in mind.”

LGBT military groups expressed outrage at the amendment even in advance of the Rules Committee giving it the green light.

“To be clear, this vile amendment is a vicious attack on service members who are sacrificing so much and putting their lives on the line for our country,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said in a statement. “As if that’s not outrageous enough, it would also rip away the medically necessary health care of transgender family members.” 

Matt Thorn, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, added: "This amendment is a mean-spirited, unconstitutional attempt to impede the recruitment of openly transgender individuals who want to serve their country. Transgender service members have been serving, openly and authentically, since October 2016 with no impact on readiness.”