Despite their stated focus on economic issues, Republicans next week will once again return to the culture war battlefield, taking up a controversial measure aimed at banning late-term abortions in the District of Columbia.
According to House Republicans, Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this week gave the green light to bring the bill -- authored by Rep. Trent Franks, who along with Rep. Michele Bachmann made headlines last week attacking Muslims in the federal government – to the House floor for a vote.
Republicans insist they are focused on jobs and the economy, arguing that November’s election will be settled on checkbook issues and not social issues like abortion or gay marriage that have defined previous contests.
A Cantor aide defended the timing of the vote. “A bill that is sponsored by a majority of the House was just reported out of committee, and will be considered next week,” the aide said, noting the House will also consider the GOP’s tax cut extension plan -- and spent much of this week on legislation aimed at reducing regulatory burdens on businesses.
Still, Cantor’s decision has frustrated his fellow Republicans, who had hoped to keep the focus squarely on taxes and the economy next week as they prepare to head into the August recess, a period when the election cycle will begin in earnest.
Republican lawmakers and operatives declined to openly criticize Cantor’s decision to schedule the vote.
But privately, conservatives and moderates alike said it makes little sense given the GOP’s efforts to keep the economy – and not social issues – in the forefront.
“Leadership told us that the ‘get out of town’ week messaging was ‘stop the tax hike.’ It baffles many of us that they would muddy that messaging by scheduling an abortion bill vote,” one Republican said Friday.
“Obama raising taxes is supposed to be the message of the week … not this,” a conservative Republican argued.
The National Right to Life Committee – which has been pushing the vote – praised the decision.
“This roll call will be a landmark – the House has never before voted on the question of whether to endorse legal abortion for any reason until birth,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.
“Any lawmaker who votes against this bill is voting to ratify the extreme policy currently in effect in the nation’s capital, where abortion is perfectly legal for any reason until the moment of birth,” Johnson added.
The Republicans have regularly returned to the issue of abortion since taking control of the House in January 2011.
Since the beginning of this Congress, the House has held numerous votes either directly on the issue of abortion – including the
No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, Protect Life Act and the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2012 – as well as broader bills including abortion language, such as the yearly appropriations measures.
Those votes have targeted a whole range of pro-life priorities, including bills to strengthen existing bans on federal funding for abortions, efforts to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and other measures.
To be sure, the House will have its hands full with economic issues next week as they prepare to head home for a month, and Cantor has also scheduled on vote on Republicans’ plan to fully extend the Bush-era tax cuts.
And while Republicans will likely try to keep the focus on that, the reality is social issues like abortion almost always overshadow their best laid economic messaging plans.
For instance, this spring’s fight over contraception – which Speaker John Boehner had initially embraced – ate up weeks of messaging time.
Similarly, two weeks ago Republicans saw their economic arguments subsumed by Bachmann’s attacks on Muslims in the government.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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