As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Once again, Senate Republicans are preparing to flip-flop on taxpayer funding of plans that cover abortion. In June, I discussed how unnamed Senate Republican sources claimed that their “repeal-and-replace” legislation would preserve Obamacare’s “restrictions on abortion funding,” even though Republicans have spent the past seven years arguing that the law provides taxpayer funding of plans that cover abortion.
Those same unnamed sources are now trying to claim that the Obamacare “stability” bill does not need additional restrictions on abortion funding. As Politico reports:
[Senate Republicans are] stressing that Obamacare already has prohibitions on using federal funds for abortions that are not because of rape or incest or to save the mother’s life. Anti-abortion groups didn’t trust the Obama Administration to enforce those prohibitions. That prohibition could carry more weight now. ‘We have a pro-life Administration that has agreed to more stringently enforce the life protections,’ a Senate Republican source said.
That claim might sound nice now, but it’s not what Republicans have argued since Obamacare passed, nor is it consistent with the facts. To claim otherwise insults the intelligence of the pro-life community, and voters at large.
Let’s Go Down Memory Lane
In June, I cited several floor speeches during the Obamacare debate where congressional leaders argued that Obamacare includes taxpayer funding of abortions. For instance, here’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as the House prepared to vote on Obamacare: “Democrats over in the House want to approve the Senate bill without actually voting on it. These Democrats want to approve a bill that rewrites one-sixth of the economy, forces taxpayers to pay for abortions, raises taxes in the middle of a recession, and slashes Medicare for seniors, without leaving their fingerprints on it” (emphasis mine).
Astute observers might notice the wording of McConnell’s remarks. The Senate majority leader did not say that “Obamacare might force taxpayers to fund abortion coverage, depending upon how the administration implements the law.” He did not say that “We need to elect a pro-life administration to prevent Obamacare from providing taxpayer funding of abortion coverage.” He flatly stated that Obamacare “forces taxpayers to pay for abortions”—period, end of story.
The current vice president, Mike Pence, said the same thing. While serving in the House, he delivered a floor speech that unequivocally equated Obamacare with taxpayer funding of abortion coverage:
Mr. Speaker, the bill before us tonight doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t fix the fact that this is a government takeover of health care that’s going to mandate that every American buy health insurance whether they want it or need it or not. It doesn’t fix the fact that it includes about $600 billion in job-killing tax increases in the worst economy in 30 years. It doesn’t fix the fact this bill provides public funding for elective abortion for the first time in American history (emphasis added).
Law Trumps Executive Action
McConnell, Pence, and many others had good reason for their statements. As Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) noted in December 2009, Obamacare’s abortion funding restrictions are “significantly weaker” than the Hyde Amendment—a provision designed to prevent taxpayer funding of abortion since 1976—making them “completely unacceptable” in Hatch’s view, and in the view of most pro-lifers.
As to Republican staffers’ claims that the Trump administration can “fix” the flawed statutory language through executive orders or more robust enforcement, here’s what pro-life Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) had to say about that in March 2010:
This bill expands abortion funding to the greatest extent in history. I have heard that the President is contemplating an executive order to try to limit this. Members should not be fooled. Executive orders cannot override the clear intent of a statute….If an executive order moves the abortion funding in this bill away from where it is now, it will be struck down as unconstitutional because executive orders cannot constitutionally do that.
Other House members made the same argument in March 2010, including Dan Lungren (R-CA) and Joe Pitts (R-PA). Their argument applies just as equally to Republican presidents and administrations as it does to Democratic ones.
Moreover, conservatives who believe in limited government should not ask President Trump to exceed his executive authority, and a blanket funding on Obamacare’s abortion coverage would do just that. As I wrote in January, “a Republican Administration should not be tempted to ‘use unilateral actions to achieve conservative ends.’ Such behavior represents a contradiction in terms.” Not only can the Trump administration not stop funding of abortion coverage unilaterally, it should not attempt to try, if doing so would exceed its legal authority.
Don’t Insult Voters’ Intelligence
Just as the Trump administration should not try to exceed its authority in shutting down federal funding of abortion coverage, Senate Republicans should not attempt to insult voters by pretending that those efforts will succeed legally, or that the “completely unacceptable” abortion “protections” Hatch described in 2009 are now sufficient.
As I noted in October, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) failed even to understand the need for pro-life protections when crafting his “stability” bill earlier this fall. Leadership claiming pro-life protections are unnecessary when Alexander never bothered to consider them literally adds insult to injury.
— Jason Calvi (@JasonCalvi) October 19, 2017
Senate Republicans have already attempted to claim that the insurer “stability” bill will bring benefits to taxpayers, even though the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office believes the bill will give a windfall directly to insurance companies. They should not worsen the spectacle of rationalizing bad policy by attempting to render seven years of arguments they made to the pro-life community meaningless—for they only beclown themselves in the process.
Mr. Jacobs is founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, a policy consulting firm based in Washington. He is on Twitter: @chrisjacobsHC.