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Conservative Groups Bemoan Senate Barriers

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Anti-abortion advocates, such as the ones seen protesting on the National Mall, and other socially conservative groups have high expectations for the House GOP leadership. But already they say the Senate, including some of its Republicans, is likely to disappoint.

Socially conservative groups are confident they have the Republican-led House covered during the 112th Congress.

But the Senate is already proving a disappointment to their agenda.

As Congressional GOP leaders test the extent of their 2010 Election Day mandate in the coming months, lobbyists for organizations such as the Family Research Council, Christian Coalition of America and Focus on the Family claim the chamber’s 53-47 margin will likely offer no shortage of political headaches.

“We’ll have to see the first couple of [Senate] votes,” Christian Coalition of America lobbyist Jim Backlin said.

But early Senate warnings sounded for socially conservative groups back in December, when Sen. Mark Kirk — a freshman who assumed office early — cast an “aye” vote that helped repeal the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars openly gay service members. For five terms, the Illinois Republican represented a Democratic House district on Chicago’s North Shore, but he swung hard to the right ahead of his 2010 Senate run, a political course he’s already apparently reversed. The Christian Coalition lobbyist said Kirk’s lame-duck vote may be a harbinger of things to come in the Senate for conservative priorities.

“We were a little surprised by Kirk’s vote on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ because he was considered a tea party favorite,” Backlin said.

Aside from Kirk, eight Senate Republicans voted for the DADT repeal, including Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Susan Collins (Maine), John Ensign (Nev.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Scott Brown (Mass.). Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) also voted for the bill, but he retired this year after two terms.

Backlin said his group is optimistic Voinovich’s replacement, freshman Sen. Rob Portman (R), will be a more reliably conservative vote than his predecessor.

As of week’s end, the groups were still finalizing their 2011 lobbying game plans. But Backlin and other advocates for socially conservative organizations expect Republican lawmakers to pivot toward proposals involving federal abortion funding, gay rights and stem-cell research once a vote is held on the pending repeal of the recently enacted health care law.

Tom McClusky, a Family Research Council lobbyist, said he expects his organization to score the health care repeal vote and then to turn to more discrete aspects of the 2010 rewrite that involve federal abortion funding. The group, which is run by former Louisiana state legislator Tony Perkins (R), will also try to cash in some of its political good will after handing out campaign contributions for the first time last cycle.

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