By Jason Millman - 02/21/11 04:23 PM EST
A handful of Senate Democrats are presenting a united front against new reproductive-rights restrictions being pushed by House Republicans.
The House on Friday, during its debate of a spending bill to keep the government running past March 4, approved an amendment by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) stripping federal funding from Planned Parenthood, which receives about $350 million each year in federal, state and local grants.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Al Franken (Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) have promised recently to block the Republican agenda to limit abortion services and defund Planned Parenthood.
Asked by reporters Thursday if the Senate had the votes to defeat Pence’s battle against Planned Parenthood, Franken offered a one-word answer: “Yes."
Following the recess week, the Senate will produce a spending bill that will look much different from the House version, which blocks funding to implement the healthcare reform law. With the prospect of a government shutdown looming over the continuing resolution, it’s unclear if Republicans will back down on defunding Planned Parenthood.
Republicans have made two other abortion bills a top priority. Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) introduced a bill that would bar the healthcare reform law from funding abortions and expand “conscience protections” to healthcare workers and entities that object to abortion care on religious or moral grounds. Another bill from Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) would set wider abortion restrictions, including a ban on tax breaks for private health plans that cover abortion.
Democrats are accusing Republicans of abandoning an election mandate to focus on jobs and the economy.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of three freshman Democrats, said abortion rarely came up during last year’s campaign; he’s surprised Republicans unleashed an abortion agenda early into the new Congress.
“I am astonished because it runs so contrary to what the mandate of this last election was,” Blumenthal told The Hill.
Pitts, whose selection to lead the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health subpanel was strongly urged by anti-abortion-rights groups, said that Democrats should have seen this coming. He pointed out that the Republicans’ “Pledge to America,” released in September, explicitly laid out the party’s plans to enact legislation restricting abortion.
“We will establish a government-wide prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion and subsidies for insurance coverage that includes abortion,” the GOP wrote in its 48-page document, which mentioned abortion three times. “This prohibition would go further and enact into law what is known as the Hyde Amendment as well as ban other instances of federal subsidies for abortion services. We will also enact into law conscience protections for healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses and hospitals.”
Pitts, stressing that the abortion bills are just a small part of GOP business in the House, said he doesn’t think Republicans risk upsetting voters by focusing on abortion issues.
“The social-issue conservatives are a part of our constituency,” Pitts said in an interview.
However, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) thinks otherwise.
“I think this legislation has awoken the sleeping giant of my generation,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It’s been complacent for so many years, taking the right to choose for granted, thinking it’s never under assault.”