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Abortion Bill May Muddy Message

Cantor’s Tack Might Disrupt Week Focused on Free-Trade Deals

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (above) said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s quest for a vote on abortion legislation this week “is taking time up for political agenda.”

With votes scheduled on a series of coveted trade deals this week, one would think House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would stack the deck with noncontroversial votes to provide his Conference with a week's worth of jobs-related wins.

After all, Republicans have struggled for much of the year to break through the constant string of emergency spending and debt measures with their jobs agenda, and public polling shows voters trust an unpopular President Barack Obama with the economy more than they do Congressional Republicans.

And yet Cantor has decided to use Thursday for a floor vote on a bill to prevent federal funding for health care plans that provide abortion services a topic guaranteed to polarize.

Although part of the reasoning behind taking the vote this week was that the trade wins could give the House some cover to pass the bill without fanfare, Republicans acknowledge the chance that the vote could muddy an otherwise solid week for the GOP's jobs message.

"Why are we doing this?" one veteran GOP aide asked.

"I don't think anybody believes that's going to bring jobs, nor does anybody believe that's going to pass," Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday.

"It is taking time up for political agenda, which has little chance of doing anything other than appealing to those people who believe it's an appropriate policy," the Maryland Democrat added.

On Friday, Cantor announced that the House would be taking up abortion this week. In a speech before the conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Cantor said, "[This] week we will stand up again" to pass legislation so that "no health care worker has to participate in abortions against their will."

Cantor also went after Planned Parenthood in his speech, telling the gathering of activists, "I can tell you that after November 2012, we look forward to a Senate and a White House that will partner with us" to kill funding for "any and all organizations that perform abortions."

But during his weekly meeting with reporters, Cantor was back on the GOP's jobs agenda, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction and even the Occupy Wall Street protests. Absent from his prepared remarks was anything about the abortion vote.

Although abortion has not been a major part of the GOP's internal agenda for the fall, Cantor's office had informed lawmakers earlier in the week that the bill would come to the floor, several aides said.

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