Right-to-Lifers Look for a New Hostage for Their Demands

Thwarted by the Senate’s failure to pass health-care legislation loaded with anti-abortion provisions, the RTL lobby wants in on the upcoming tax bill. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans frustrated by their Senate conference’s serial failure to repeal and replace Obamacare are beginning to back away from threats to extend the battle right on into the autumn. Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson, both members of the Senate Budget Committee, had been pledging to vote against any FY 2018 budget resolution that didn’t authorize another run at Obamacare. But after Graham and his health-care sidekick Bill Cassidy met with the president, and probably after they heard from a hundred lobbyists hungry for tax cuts, these threats subsided, and the GOP struggled to make the next budget bill all about taxes, with no distractions. Bringing down the Great White Whale of Obamacare could wait until early next year, Trump publicly suggested.

But there’s one important GOP faction that isn’t bowing down before the golden calf of tax cuts: the right-to-life movement, which has seen its major legislative goals thwarted by the health-care fiasco. Every one of the House and Senate Republican health-care bills included language “defunding” Planned Parenthood for a year and prohibiting use of Obamacare tax credits to buy insurance policies covering abortion. So the anti-abortion lobby is viewing the failure to pass any of this legislation as a broken promise to them. They want it redeemed right away, in the budget resolution Republicans are battling to reserve for tax cuts, as the Hill reports:

Anti-abortion groups fuming over the Republican failure to defund Planned Parenthood as part of ObamaCare repeal are eyeing tax reform as the next vehicle for their cause.

The groups want Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood in a tax reform package that the GOP plans to move through the Senate under special budgetary rules that protect it from a Democratic filibuster.

Republican lawmakers are full of excuses for why the anti-abortion measures need to await the next health-care bill:

“I don’t think we should do anything that compromises passing tax reform,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). He suggested that Planned Parenthood could be addressed later, when Republicans move back to health care.

But the groups that represent the most powerful GOP constituency group this side of Wall Street are getting impatient, and adding the most recent failures to what they perceive as a long history of being played for suckers. Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins make that plain:

If this was a priority for leadership, they would have found a way to get this done. This is something we’ve been talking about for many years,” Hawkins said.

Some Hill Republicans seem sympathetic, if non-committal:

“Well, obviously, the defunding provision is critically important to many of us and to a lot of unborn children, so we’re hoping to see it placed in a vehicle that will come to fruition,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus.

Asked if that could be tax reform, he replied: “I know that’s certainly something I would support, but I’m obviously also strongly supportive of the tax bill at this point.”

Republicans do have some serious leverage with the RTLers: Only a budget bill can sneak the anti-abortion provisions through the Senate without triggering a Democratic filibuster. And anti-abortion groups dare not threaten to screw up tax reform by urging votes against a taxes-only budget resolution.

What the RTLers could do, though, is threaten that if their cause isn’t included in the new budget resolution, they’ll think long and hard about taking hostage one of the two big “must-pass” bills coming up in December, the next debt-limit increase and an omnibus appropriations bill. It is unclear whether they might be willing to insist that their congressional allies actually risk a debt default or a government shutdown. But the possibility might strike GOP congressional leaders as more dangerous as just giving the anti-abortion lobby its pound of flesh by incongruously adding its agenda to a tax bill.

Right-to-Lifers Look for a New Hostage for Their Demands