US Senate Democrats sought to repeal the Mexico City Policy this week in an appropriations bill, raising concern that some pro-life policies could be endangered during budget negotiations as the end of the fiscal year approaches.
Democrats on the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee attempted to insert an amendment that repealed the Mexico City Policy into a State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill, resulting in the bill being pulled from consideration for advancement out of the Senate Appropriations Committee this week.
With just weeks to go before the Sept. 30 end of the 2019 fiscal year, budget appropriations for federal agencies need to be determined for FY 2020—but congressional leaders are admitting that might not be possible before the deadline.
The attempted repeal of the Mexico City Policy was coupled with a proposed amendment by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Sept. 10 for another appropriations bill, this one to repeal the administration’s Title X “Protect Life Policy.”
That policy went into effect in August, and required any recipient of Title X family planning funds to not refer for abortions and not be “collocated” with an abortion clinic. Murray’s proposed amendment to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill resulted in its being pulled from consideration for markup as well.
“Senate GOP pulled an apropos bill before a markup today to avoid voting on my amendment to get rid of the #TitleX gag rule,” Murray tweeted Sept. 10. “If they are more willing to listen to President Trump than patients in their own states, they should own up to it & let their votes show it. #SaveTitleX”.
In a Sept. 10 press conference Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blamed Republican attempts to insert $12 billion in funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border into appropriations for holding up the process.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at a markup hearing Sept. 12 that the planned advancement of the two appropriations bills had to be scuttled because of the “threat of poison pill amendments” which “would have prevented Senate passage and drawn the President’s veto.”
“I am hopeful we can resolve these matters and move forward on both measures soon,” Shelby said in his remarks at the beginning of the hearing, adding that the proposed amendments violated the budget agreement between President Trump and Congressional leaders.
The budget agreement—reached in July by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)—called for no attempts to insert “poison pills” into spending legislation in the next two years, including any attempts to undo pro-life policies of the administration, without the consensus of all involved in the agreement.
“Poison pills” refers to attempts to insert amendments or riders into legislation that would be deemed troublesome or controversial; opponents would supposedly be forced to scuttle the legislation or keep the controversial amendments.
Senate Pro-Life Caucus chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) had called for Trump to stand strong against any attempts to use the appropriations process to repeal his administration’s pro-life policies.
However, the July budget agreement was flawed because it amounted to nothing more than a “handshake deal,” March for Life Action president Tom McClusky told CNA, and is “not worth the paper it was written on.”
There would reportedly have not been enough votes in the appropriations committee to prevent the “poison pills” from staying in the legislation anyhow. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are two Republicans on the committee who might have supported the proposals; they have a 70 percent rating and a 65 percent rating, respectively, for 2019 from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
With just weeks to go before the end of the fiscal year, McClusky warned that a Continuing Resolution—a short-term temporary extension of budget authority for federal agencies—would be better than alternative scenarios.
“The best thing for pro-lifers right now is a CR,” McClusky told CNA, explaining that the status quo would be better than other alternatives where senators might have to vote on “poison pill” amendments to fund the government.
The Mexico City Policy is generally one of the first policies implemented—or repealed—by an incoming presidential administration. Started by President Ronald Reagan, the policy bars foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions from U.S. family planning assistance.
In 2017, the Trump administration reinstituted the Mexico City Policy and vastly expanded its protections against taxpayer funding of abortions internationally, through the new “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in May that the administration would also not fund any groups that give financial assistance to other groups in the abortion industry, and would not fund any lobbying for abortion.
Senators from both parties emphasized the importance of passing appropriations bills before the Sept. 30 deadline.
“As appropriators, we should all want to extend that bipartisan success, not relapse into the partisan bickering that left us lurching from crisis to crisis,” Shelby said on Thursday. “The time for haggling over the terms of the budget agreement has passed. The time to get our work done is upon us, and it is running short.”
“I know both the chairman and I wish we could have begun the process sooner, but I hope we can work very well over the next few weeks,” the committee’s vice chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) stated at the Sept. 12 hearing.
“The reason our subcommittee has been successful in passing bipartisan bills in the past is because we avoided controversial issues,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the committee, said in a written statement to CNA.
“What Democrats appear to be proposing in terms of stopping the president’s Title X regulations is clearly a violation of the budget agreement. I would hope to see our Democrat colleagues keep their word so we can get to work on this bill, which funds a variety of critical health care programs,” he said.