Congressional Commitment to Values

Posted: Mar 16, 2006 11:43 AM

That the best offense is a good defense holds true in football. In Congress an effective offense that enacts legislation very well may find itself playing a new strategic game – defense. That has been the case in recent years in regard to funding programs involving values issues. The forces which would protect family values must prepare to play defense to protect hard-fought gains.

Fortunately, the Values Action Teams (VAT) in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate are able to play good brands of offense and defense.

The House VAT, chaired by Representative Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), works to develop consensus on strategies and tactics regarding pro-family and pro-life issues. The House VAT was formed in 1998 after pro-life and pro-family members held a values summit which identified the need for more coordination. VAT Members of Congress must be strongly pro-life and willing to do more than vote correctly; they must organize and advocate on behalf of issues.

One recent indication of VAT effectiveness came when the House passed last year the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act. There is a strong lobby for casinos in the House but action by anti-gambling groups and VAT helped to ensure that casinos would not be made eligible to receive tax benefits for rebuilding in areas impacted by Katrina and Rita. Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) wrote two letters objecting to tax breaks for casino interests. One letter, in October, noted that such a tax break for one casino could reach as high as $50 million. A second letter, in December, noted that the Senate had passed a bill allowing casinos, liquor stores and massage parlors to be eligible for tax benefits. The letter, of course, strongly objected to benefits for businesses such as casinos “which are boasting of record profits.” VAT played a major role in gathering signatures for the letters. The bill signed by President George W. Bush did not include tax breaks for casinos although hotels and casinos attached to casinos can take advantage of tax breaks.

The FY 2007 appropriations process is beginning and will present new dangers requiring VAT to play a good defense. Pro-abortion forces will use floor debates this year over appropriations bills to sponsor amendments aimed at reversing some hard-won gains by the pro-life forces.

The legislative provision formally titled the Conscience Protections for Health Care Providers (Conscience Clause) is worth defending. Included in the FY 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Act, the Conscience Clause prevents Federal, state and local governments from filing suit against health care providers which will not “provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” The importance of this provision is made clear in a July 2004 letter from the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Medical Association and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The letter urged members of the House Appropriations Committee to add language sponsored by Representative David J. (Dave) Weldon (R-FL) to the Henry J. Hyde (R-IL) Amendment, which forbids abortions to be funded by Medicaid. Citing a 2002 decision by an Alaska court which ordered a local hospital to fund abortion the letter stated:

    … the Alaska court partly premised its decision on the argument that because the hospital received federal funds (Medicare and Medicaid), it had become a ‘quasi-public’ actor with an obligation to further what the court saw as government’s goal of advancing abortion. In effect, abortion advocates maintain that receipt of federal funds requires conscientiously opposed health care providers to perform abortions, even when the federal government itself has long decided not to fund abortion.

The Weldon language was deemed by the Conference of Bishops to be “very appropriate as an addition” to the Hyde Amendment.

VAT members and others prevailed in last year’s battle to retain the Conscience Clause in the Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill. To the pro-abortion forces in Washington the Conscience Clause is a piñata that continually must be whacked until it crumbles.

That is not the only measure against which VAT must play defense. Other “must-defend” items include the Mexico City Policy and Kemp-Kasten. President Ronald W. Reagan declared the Mexico City Policy in 1984, which held that family planning funds distributed by the United States Agency for International Development only could be distributed to those nongovernmental organizations which agreed neither to perform nor advocate abortion. The policy was scotched soon after President William J. Clinton took office in 1993, but President George W. Bush quickly undid his predecessor’s work. Every year the measure needs to be included in the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. Thus, VAT forever must be vigilant that the pro-abortion lobby will not attempt surprise procedural maneuverings to strike down Kemp-Kasten.

VAT played hard-hitting defense last year in blocking the Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) Amendment to the State, Justice and Commerce Appropriations Bill. The Amendment would have restored United States funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), which is supportive of China’s one-child policy. Our country has not contributed to UNFP since 2002 due to our concern that the policy depends upon forced sterilizations and abortions.

Pitts has discussed holding a “Religious Liberty Week” when House Members would vote on key legislation aimed at protecting public displays of religious expression, such as the Ten Commandments. It is a good idea, one that can help awaken the public to the drive by secular forces to eliminate recognition of our Judeo-Christian heritage. H.J. Res. 57, sponsored by Representative Ernest J. Istook, Jr. (R-OK), known as the Religious Freedom Amendment, would propose a Constitutional amendment:

    “To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience:

    `The people retain the right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including schools.

    `The United States and the States shall not establish any official religion nor require any person to join in prayer or religious activity.”

The Senate VAT is chaired by Senator Sam D. Brownback (R-KS). It also has a full plate of proposed legislation.

One important bill, passed by the House last year, 270-150, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (H.R. 748), would prohibit the transporting of minors across state lines to avoid notification to parents that their child is about to undergo an abortion or to avoid parental consent. President Bush felt H.R. 748 was sufficiently important to issue a statement of support, urging the Senate to act after House passage. He complimented the House:

    …for its bipartisan vote to protect the health and safety of minors by ensuring that state parental involvement laws are not circumvented. The parents of pregnant minors can provide counsel, guidance, and support to their children, and should be involved in these decisions. I urge the Senate to pass this important legislation and help continue to build a culture of life in America.

Senator John E. Ensign (R-NV) is the sponsor of the Senate companion bill, the Child Custody Protection Act, which may receive a vote as early as this month. Majority Leader William H. Frist, M.D. (R-TN) considers it a priority. The National Right to Life Committee states that parental notification and consent laws enjoy extremely strong support in polls. This measure not only addresses a popular issue but also reflects common sense.

Brownback and Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) are sponsors of a cloning ban. This principled position is based upon the innate dignity of human life. No human embryo can be reproduced by cloning.

Brownback has put it eloquently: “We should not create human life just to destroy it.” Cloning relegates human life to the equivalent of a junk car to be stripped for parts. President Bush in this year’s State of the Union Address made clear his opposition to the desecration of human life by cloning.

VAT has played an invaluable role in mobilizing pro-life and pro-family Members, connecting with grassroots groups, defining and advancing a realistic and credible legislative agenda that resonates with many people. The Senate and House VATs have made a crucial difference in converting pro-life and pro-family sentiment in Congress into majority votes. An important element is yet somewhat minimal – citizen grassroots activities. Your calls, letters, facsimiles and e-mail to Congressional offices often make a difference, particularly when a Member of Congress is undecided.

My longtime friend and ally, Morton C. Blackwell, President of the Leadership Institute, maintains that in Congress “nothing moves unless it is pushed.” Likewise, when something is pushed by the pro-abortion forces it must encounter an equally strong counterforce. VAT is applying the necessary force to move the good legislation and stop the bad. Pro-family and pro-life activists need to support the work of VAT through their communications to Congress. Grassroots activists do make a difference.