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Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has thus far refused to make social issues central in his agenda, focusing instead on spending and the debt. But the House today will briefly wade into the social wars of the 1990s, bringing up a controversial anti-abortion bill.
The measure, which is expected to pass, would prohibit federal funding for abortions and create new controls on private companies that offer insurance plans that cover abortions.
The decision to put the measure on the floor is giving new hope to some social conservatives who want their issues swept up into the debt limit debate.
Rep. Trent Franks, an anti-abortion advocate, said that House Republicans “have some leverage” to get the Democratically controlled Senate to take up the legislation, similar to the way House Republicans forced an amendment onto the continuing resolution that would defund federal funding for Planned Parenthood. As part of a larger agreement on the final CR, Senate leaders agreed to hold a separate vote on the Planned Parenthood amendment.
On April 13, the Senate voted down the measure 42-58 with Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) joining Democrats to oppose the bill. While conservatives were unsuccessful in getting the measure included in the final package, House Republicans said the forced vote was still a victory.
While Franks, a two-term lawmaker from Arizona, acknowledged that a balanced budget amendment may be better suited to be part of a compromise debt limit vote, he still has hope for a Senate vote on an anti-abortion bill.
Franks isn’t alone in hoping that H.R. 3 is part of the discussion on the debt ceiling extension.
“What we use the debt limit to leverage is really up to the leaders, [but] I would think this would be one of the bills that we could be asking for,” said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), an ardent anti-abortion supporter.
Although conservative organizations have not yet begun pushing for this as part of the debt limit debate, activists said they would support the effort and argued that Republicans should make it a matter of routine that deals include requirements that the Senate vote on social issues. “Republicans making such demands shouldn’t be out of the ordinary,” Family Research Council’s Tom McClusky said.
Not all conservative Republicans are expecting the anti-abortion bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) to become a major factor in debt limit negotiations.
Rep. John Shimkus said he thought offsets for raising the debt limit needed to be very fiscally focused.