WASHINGTON — Top Capitol Hill Democrats are intent on preserving a four-decade ban on taxpayer-financed abortions despite calls from their party’s presidential candidates to abandon it, arguing that attempts to undo the longstanding consensus will fail and won’t be worth scuttling a key education and health funding bill.
While presidential candidates such as Democratic front-runner Joe Biden hustle to rewrite their positions on the so-called Hyde Amendment, legislative veterans such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro have worked behind the scenes to smooth the waters for the provision.
It is a long-settled feature of the annual funding measure, which contains numerous programs dear to Democrats.
Powering the pragmatic approach is simple reality: The GOP-controlled Senate simply won’t pass the measure unless the abortion provision stays in and even if it did, President Donald Trump would swiftly veto it.
It’s a different story on the presidential campaign trail, however, where Biden’s reversal on the Hyde Amendment — named after former Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., an anti-abortion stalwart — attracted lots of attention over the past week. Biden, a Roman Catholic who has wrestled with abortion-related issues, supported the amendment for decades only to reverse course last week to embrace federally-funded abortion.
Most of the rest of the Democratic field already opposed the Hyde Amendment, though many of them have voted for in during their Senate or House careers as part of larger appropriations bills.
In fact, the Democratic efforts this week to repeal the Hyde Amendment appear designed to fail. Hyde first added the provision to the annual measure in 1976, and some Democrats, including top leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, have voted for it dozens of times.
Liberal opponents of the provision, led by Rep. Barbara Lee of California, are seeking to offer an anti-Hyde provision to the almost $1 trillion spending bill combining health and education spending with the budget for the Pentagon and a handful of other Cabinet departments.
But their approach wouldn’t just repeal the Hyde Amendment. It would also mandate new policy to require that the government “ensure coverage for abortion in public health insurance programs” and other steps. The approach requires special treatment under House rules, a relatively rare step that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would have to approve.
Democratic leaders are not expected to allow Lee to offer the amendment as they announce the rules for floor debate later Monday, aides said.
Liberals didn’t offer a simpler version of the amendment to simply strike the longstanding Hyde language, an approach that wouldn’t fall afoul of House rules and would likely be able to pass. The end result, if all goes according to plan, would be for the fight to simply fizzle out.
DeLauro, a close Pelosi ally and lead author of the underlying health and education funding bill, says that Democrats should focus their attention on fighting new GOP attacks on abortion rights in states such as Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia rather than waging a war on the shaky political ground of taxpayer funding for abortions.
“This president is highly invested in continuing these attacks on women, and we also know the power of the White House and that this president will reject a repeal of the Hyde amendment. That is why this bill maintains current law with regards to the Hyde Amendment,” DeLauro said last month. “Make no mistake, the Hyde Amendment is a discriminatory policy that makes access to basic reproductive health care based on your income. That is simply wrong, and I oppose it.”
DeLauro and other top sponsors of the health, education and labor spending bill such as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., have fought for decades to protect the measure from round after round of proposed GOP cuts to it. The House education and health and human services portion of this week’s catchall measure weighs in at $190 billion, a $12 billion increase over current levels. If the measure is derailed over the Hyde Amendment, all of those Democratic gains would be lost.