Dems: Hey, There's That Abortion Language Republicans Were Talking About

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 19, 2015 3:30 PM
Dems: Hey, There's That Abortion Language Republicans Were Talking About
Piggybacking on Guy and Noah's coverage of the anti-human trafficking bill saga. An aide to Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota admitted to seeing the abortion language, but didn’t inform the senator before the bill was voted on in the Senate Judiciary Committee; it passed unanimously.

As Guy wrote, the Democratic filibuster over this bill is due to the provision that bans the funding of abortions–the Hyde Amendment–unveiled a truly ugly side (I know; there are many) of the political left. Moreover, Democrats knew this language was going to be added. The law–Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act–contains spending, and adding the Hyde Amendment to appropriation bills isn’t an alien process:


Read the whole Politico story, which lays out the facts -- which, in turn, lay the blame for this embarrassing debacle directly at Democrats' feet. Recapping: Prosaic legislative language restricting taxpayer funding of abortion was included in Republicans' anti-sex-trafficking law. GOP authors alerted their colleagues on the other side of the aisle that this provision was coming a few months ago. The resulting bill received zero dissenting votes in a Senate Judiciary Committee vote. But once pro-abortion activists started raising hackles, Democrats decided to filibuster a law that would help victims of sex trafficking. This, from the party that carries on about the so-called "war on women." In a feeble attempt to defend their decision, Democrats initially and falsely claimed that Republicans "snuck" the language into the bill, then were forced to retreat to "we didn't read the bill." … Note well that McConnell offered Democrats an up-or-down vote to amend the bill by stripping out the abortion language. Democrats promptly objected to having the opportunity to vote on that specific item, which is ostensibly their entire basis for obstructing the underlying legislation's passage. … Just so we're crystal clear, Senate Democrats' apparent commitment to (deeply unpopular) taxpayer-funded abortion is causing them to actively block an anti-human-trafficking bill. They knew the pro-life language was in there for months, but now they're pretending to have suddenly discovered it, to their shock and horror -- but they don't want to actually vote on whether to strike the supposedly offending language. Incredible.
Regardless, Senate Democrats have chosen to die on this hill, and they’re still peddling–with the help of liberal media outlets–the “Republicans pulled a fast one of us” talking point as evidenced here, here, and here. In Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office, it seems his staff just ... missed it (via the Hill):

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Tuesday that his staff did read the bill, but suggested that they missed the provision. "My staff did review it, and this is one of those obscure section references that doesn't, as I understand it, even include the words Hyde Amendment or abortion," he said. "And there was a representation made to several senators that this — there was nothing else in the bill to be concerned about other than a few listed issues, and this was not included."
Granted, that portion is true. Here’s the text that started the whole thing:

Limitations. – Amounts in the Fund, or otherwise transferred from the Fund, shall be subject to the limitations on the use or expending of amounts described in sections 506 and 507 of division H of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (Public Law 113–76; 128 Stat. 409) to the same extent as if amounts in the Fund were funds appropriated under division H of such Act.
As NPR noted, the Consolidated Appropriations Act was passed last December, so let’s hop to Sec. 506 and 507:

SEC. 506. (a) None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for any abortion. (b) None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. (c) The term ‘‘health benefits coverage’’ means the package of services covered by a managed care provider or organization pursuant to a contract or other arrangement. SEC. 507. (a) The limitations established in the preceding section shall not apply to an abortion— (1) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or (2) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life- endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed. (b) Nothing in the preceding section shall be construed as prohibiting the expenditure by a State, locality, entity, or private person of State, local, or private funds (other than a State’s or locality’s contribution of Medicaid matching funds). (c) Nothing in the preceding section shall be construed as restricting the ability of any managed care provider from offering abortion coverage or the ability of a State or locality to contract separately with such a provider for such coverage with State funds (other than a State’s or locality’s contribution of Medicaid matching funds). (d)(1) None of the funds made available in this Act may be made available to a Federal agency or program, or to a State or local government, if such agency, program, or government subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions. (2) In this subsection, the term ‘‘health care entity’’ includes an individual physician or other health care professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan.
Ailsa Chang of NPR wrote, “To be sure, even Democratic staffers say they should have caught the language. But they contend it's a stretch to argue the abortion provision was, as Republican Sen. John Cornyn put it, ‘as plain as the nose on your face.’" Okay. It’s not explicit, but, again, Democrats knew this provision was going to be included–and Democratic staffers for members of the Senate Judiciary Committee aren’t stupid. Even Sen. Cornyn mentioned that he’s skeptical over the talking point that Democrats were left in the dark:

 Cornyn dismissed the notion that Democrats didn't know what they were voting on.
"The idea that there's been some sort of ambush is just preposterous, it's just not credible," he said from the Senate floor. "They object to language that has been the law of the land for 39 years."

The legislation passed unanimously earlier this year out of the Judiciary Committee. "You think they didn't read the bill before they put their name on it?" Cornyn asked, referring to the bill's Democratic cosponsors.

"Our friends across the aisle have some outstanding staff. ... I don't believe that they would have missed a reference in this legislation."

If senators weren't informed that the legislation included the abortion provision, Cornyn had some frank advice: "If that's true, I'd get new staff."
Politico did report that the abortion language is on pages four and five of the Senate bill. Regardless, it’s a bill that shouldn’t have been bogged down with melodrama from Democrats, but Sen. Cornyn is considering a deal to end the impasse:

Cornyn told reporters that he is looking at having Congress appropriate the money for the victims fund established by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, versus having the money come from criminal fines. “I think there's a way we can restructure and accomplish what we would want to accomplish ... which is make sure we have this fund which is available,” the Texas Republican told reporters.

“Of course they would be subject to the same restrictions that appropriations have been subject to for 39 years which is the Hyde Amendment.”

The Hyde Amendment prevents federal funds from being used for abortions. Democrats have refused to let the human trafficking bill move forward because of its inclusion in the bill, seeing the Hyde Amendment’s application to a fund set up through fines as an expansion of the government’s ban on federal funds for abortion.

Cornyn said that under the potential solution, Congress would annually appropriate the money for the victims fund and would subject it to the same restrictions on abortion as other federal funds. “I frankly don't see it,” Cornyn said of the Democrats' expansion argument. “But, I'm looking at a way to make some progress.”
In the meantime, Republicans are holding up Loretta Lynch's confirmation vote to succeed Attorney General Eric Holder, which drew a nasty–and extraordinarily unnecessary–racial response from Sen. Dick Durbin–and he wasn't even in a Starbucks.

UPDATE: Democrats filibustered the bill again, and they rejected Cornyn's deal.