Abortion fight threatens Collins deal, risks shutdown

A new fight over abortion has thrown a late obstacle into negotiations on the year-end stopgap spending deal days before a possible government shutdown.

House Republicans say two ObamaCare measures that Senate GOP leaders are expected to attach to the stopgap as part of a deal with Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (R-Maine) must include Hyde Amendment language prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion.

It would be a “stone cold nonstarter” for many House Republicans to vote for a stopgap that  includes the ObamaCare measures without the abortion restrictions, said one House GOP appropriations aide.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It won’t pass the House if you don’t have Hyde protections,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (R-Ore.).

But Democrats oppose including the language, which they see as an expansion of the existing Hyde Amendment. They argue including the language could discourage private insurers from covering abortions and insist they won’t back the stopgap if it is added.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done MORE (N.Y.) said Tuesday that adding Hyde language would “kill it altogether.”

Senate Republicans need at least eight Democrats or independents to back the stopgap to overcome a filibuster. The government will shut down on Saturday unless a new funding measure is approved.

The two ObamaCare measures are part of a deal between Senate GOP leaders and Collins that won her support for the tax-cut bill.

The first is a bill sponsored by Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats consider scaling back new funds to fight next pandemic Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up MORE (D-Wash.) that would reimburse insurers for giving discounted deductibles and copays to low-income patients. The second bill would give states billions of dollars to help insurers with the costs of covering high-risk, expensive patients.

Influential anti-abortion groups in recent days have lobbied Republicans on the issue, arguing that as written, the bills don’t include language restricting federal funding for abortions.

ObamaCare currently allows the insurer subsidies, called cost-sharing reductions, to go toward plans that cover abortions, but insurers must keep those funds separate from abortion services.

Anti-abortion groups have long argued that those restrictions aren’t strong enough and that the new ObamaCare funds should be under the Hyde Amendment.

“This would be taxpayers directly paying and reimbursing people for abortions. This is unacceptable,” said Tom McCluskey, vice president of government affairs for March For Life.

Alexander, Collins and Vice President Pence met on Tuesday and discussed the ObamaCare bills, a Senate GOP aide said.

While President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE is believed to support the deal with Collins, it has long been controversial with House conservatives, who earlier this month sought to push back a deadline for funding the government until after Christmas to separate it from the tax fight. 

Many House Republicans opposed the ObamaCare funding because they think it “props up” the health-care law. Now, facing pressure from anti-abortion groups, Republicans are digging in their heels further.

“It needs to have Hyde,” said Rep. Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithLawmakers form bipartisan Uyghur Caucus to highlight abuses Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel MORE (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus.

“It would be Bart Stupak all over again,” he added, referring to the Democratic congressman from Michigan who almost sank ObamaCare in 2009 over objections to abortion language.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyRepublicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change GOP, business groups snipe at Biden restaurant remarks Top Democrat offers bill to overhaul tax break for business owners MORE (R-Texas) said GOP leaders are listening carefully to their rank-and-file members.

“They understand where members are at on this,” he said.

At a House GOP conference meeting on Tuesday morning, a number of lawmakers raised objections to a stopgap that includes the Collins deal without the Hyde language.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Trump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece MORE (R-Wis.) told members they are "not going to pass something without Hyde protections,” according to Rep. Phil RoeDavid (Phil) Phillip RoeHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Illinois Republican elected to serve as next ranking member of House Veterans' Affairs Committee Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year MORE (R-Tenn.).

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHere's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer Overnight Health Care: FDA adds new warning to J&J COVID-19 vaccine | WHO chief pushes back on Pfizer booster shot | Fauci defends Biden's support for recommending vaccines 'one on one' HHS spending bill advances without Hyde Amendment MORE (R-Okla.), who is close to GOP leadership, said Republicans don’t want to be seen as supporting ObamaCare in the first place. The addition of the abortion fight just dials things up more.

“I think [Ryan] listens to his members, and I think he got a lot of pushback on that today,” Cole said. “There’s no stronger pro-life person than Paul Ryan. That’s never coming through here without Hyde language in it.”

Anti-abortion groups have also been pushing Republicans in the Senate to just add the Hyde Amendment to the ObamaCare bills and avoid a fight with the House.

Some Senate Republicans have instead suggested asking Trump to pass an executive order that stipulates that the cost-sharing reductions can’t be used for abortions.

President Obama issued an order in 2010 to gain support from anti-abortion Democrats, including Stupak, who threatened to vote against ObamaCare because it didn’t have Hyde protections.

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsEight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Schumer sets up key vote on bipartisan deal MORE (R-S.D.) said Tuesday that he thought getting Trump to issue an executive order could be a way out of the showdown and said that option had been discussed.

But that wasn’t enough for anti-abortion groups then, and it likely won’t be now.

“That’s not really the role of the administration,” McCluskey, of March for Life, said.

“That would be legislating from the executive branch. There aren’t two different standards just because a pro-life president is in the White House,” he said.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said the House is likely to have to make a decision once the ObamaCare measures get through the Senate.

“If you look at where the commitments have been made in terms of Sen. Collins, the leader is going to be putting those on the floor, and I think they'll probably pass the Senate, and I think it's going to be up to the House about how they want to deal with it,” Thune said.