7 Aug 2012
By now we are all well aware that the 112th Congress left a lot to be desired in terms of actual legislating and leadership. By last count, the 112th sent only 54 bills to the President, 14 of which were to rename post offices (the latter of which is ironic since one of the many items this Congress failed to do was come up with a plan to restructure the struggling U.S. Postal Service). They also failed to take any action on the economy (despite having the President’s proposed jobs plan in their laps since last year) and failed to come up with a federal response plan to the worst drought this nation has seen since the Dust Bowl.
So what did the 112th Congress spend their time doing? Three things, actually: trying to block the Affordable Care Act, obsessing about birth control coverage, and trying to limit abortion rights. And on those three items, the 112th was very busy. How busy? Check out our list of this Congress’ 10 Worst Actions for American Woman and judge for yourself.
The all-male birth control panel at a House hearing earlier this year. (Photo Courtesy ThinkProgress.org)
- The All-Male Birth Control Panel. – Who can forget this? It was the picture that summarized the War on Women for many of us: the so-called panel of “experts” called in to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s hearings on the health care birth control mandate. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) invited only male members of clergy to testify as to the mandate’s implications (and refused a request from the Democrats to include Georgetown student Sandra Fluke) in February 2012. Democratic female lawmakers called foul. Some even walked out of the hearings in protest. Photos of the hearing went viral, enraging women from coast to coast and sending political tongues wagging. For advocates of reproductive rights, the panel was visceral proof that Congress wanted to make laws governing the reproductive options available to women…without regard for or input from women. For their part, Rep. Issa and his House GOP colleagues seemed surprised that anyone would see anything wrong with holding a hearing about female contraceptives and leaving out females. Perhaps they lack the insight of Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) sixteen year old grandson, who saw the now-infamous photo of the panel and instantly sussed out the problem: “It’s all dudes.”
- The House strips down VAWA, leading to a Congressional stalemate on the bill. – Question: When did protecting women from domestic violence become a partisan issue? Answer: In 2012. The 112th Congress managed to take one of the few non-partisan legislative issues of the past twenty years, an Act that passed Congress overwhelmingly in 1994, and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, and turn into a partisan mess that revealed a shocking lack of concern for the women facing domestic violence. In April, female Republican Senators joined with Senate Democrats to pass S. 1925, a bill which reauthorized the Act and expanded its protections to include immigrants, LGBT persons, and Native American women. No-brainers, right? Wrong. After a highly charged debate throughout which there was much finger pointing as to just which party hated women more, the House passed a bill that reauthorized VAWA without the Senate’s expansions. In a contentious election year, wherein both parties typically don’t see past the end of the news cycle, reconciliation of the two bills was doomed and Congress set about passing more pressing legislation, namely renaming post offices.
- Rep. Mike Kelly compares mandatory birth control coverage to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. – In a moment of stunning short-sightedness, Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) declared that August 1, 2012, the first day that insurers were required to cover birth control for American woman, would be remembered as an “attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy,” along with December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001. We realize that Rep. Kelly is a little past the demographic for Sesame Street but is it too much to hope that a sitting member of the U.S. Congress has grasped the concept of the “one of these things is not like the others” game? Evidently not. Senator (and World War II Vet) Daniel Inouye (D-HI) later scolded Kelly’s comparison as “complete nonsense.” We could not agree more.
- House holds 33 symbolic votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. – The American people have been demanding that Congress do something – anything – about the economy, about jobs, about infrastructure, about the financial services industry, about a whole lot of urgent issues facing the country today. So what did they do? Well, in the case of the GOP-led House of Representatives, they voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act over the past year and half. Even though none of bills repealing the law would go anywhere in the Senate and would certainly be vetoed by the President. Even though the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Act in July 2012. Even though the Act is designed to provide coverage for 30 million uninsured Americans. Even though the Act ends certain egregious insurance industry practices such as charging higher premiums to women and refusing to cover pre-existing conditions. Several polls have shown that public opinion has shifted on the Affordable Care Act, with the majority of Americans now supporting government role in providing access to health care coverage. Does that shift mean that these legislators will give up their mission to repeal the ACA? Not likely according to Rep. Marsha Blackmun (R-TN), who said, after the latest symbolic vote, “We’re going to keep at it until we get this legislation off the books.”
- The Blunt Amendment tries to mix contraception coverage with highway funding, at women’s expense. When we said that the 112th Congress obsessed about birth control, we’re not exaggerating. Republicans in the 112th found a way to voice their displeasure at mandatory contraception coverage in the unlikeliest of legislative conversations, even highway construction. In February 2012, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) added an amendment to a highway bill that would have not only allowed all employers to block contraception coverage for employees due to moral objections but would them to block coverage of any health service required by the 2010 health-care law. Pandora’s Box much, Senator? The vote to kill the amendment ultimately succeeded but the vote was a terrifyingly close 51-48, largely along party lines, though three Democrats supported the amendment, and one Republican voted against it. It should be noted that the sole Republican who voted against the Blunt Amendment was Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who is retiring from the Senate.
- Senate blocks advancement of the Paycheck Fairness Act. – We’ve heard it time and time again; American women earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Minority women earn even less. And despite the insistence of some that this is discrepancy is solely due to all that time women take off to raise babies, the real statistics tell a different story. The fact is gender discrimination is still a major factor in the wage gap. The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced in 2011 in both houses of Congress would have required employers to demonstrate that salary differences between men and women doing the same work are not gender-related. it would also haves prohibited employers from retaliating against workers who compare salary information with their coworkers for comparison. Opponents of the bill argued that the existing Equal Pay and Civil Rights Acts adequately protected women from gender wage discrimination and that the Paycheck Fairness Act would only result in “unnecessary litigation.” The Paycheck Fairness Act failed to gather the necessary votes to advance. All Senate Republicans, including female Republican Senators who had supported early drafts of the bill, voted against it. That made us wonder, what would happen if American taxpayers tried to pay female lawmakers 77% of what male lawmakers make? Would they support paycheck fairness then?
- Senator Mike Lee adds D.C. anti-abortion amendment to cyber-security bill. Just hours after a similar bill restricting abortions in the District of Columbia failed to pass in the House, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) resurrected the proposal and attached it to a completely unrelated cyber-security bill in the Senate. The proposal, which aimed to ban abortions in D.C. after the 20th week of pregnancy without providing exceptions for the health of the mother, is based a now-disputed study on fetal pain. Abortion opponents won’t let go of the study, especially after having success in passing statewide bans such as one in Arizona. In fact, the House version of the bill was backed by PReNDA author Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who has vowed to bring up the bill again in the next session of Congress. As for the cyber-security bill, like most bills branded with abortion regulations, it proved radioactive and failed to pass, adding one more item to the list of issues the 112th failed to resolve.
- Senator Rand Paul plays anti-abortion politics with flood relief bill. - In what is perhaps the clearest example of why Congress spends a great deal of time getting nothing done, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is apparently trying to build his career by stalling legislation. In June 2012, Paul attempted to derail flood insurance legislation that was expected to pass the Senate easily (on the eve of flood and hurricane season, no less) by demanding that the Senate vote on whether life began at conception as part of the bill’s review. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) called the request ridiculous, and postponed the vote on the bill, rather than accede to Paul’s demand. The Senate was eventually able to negotiate a resolution to the flood insurance bill by combining it with student loan legislation but Paul is undeterred. His other obstructions include attaching anti-union clauses and gun rights provisions to foreign policy legislation and trying to force in an amendment repealing the contraception insurance coverage requirement by inserting it into federal highway legislation. Other lawmakers are beginning to emulate these tactics, increasing the number of instances where politicians try to earn their political bona fides by preventing Congress from getting anything done.
- Denny Rehberg vs. Women’s Healthcare. - In a Congress where flip-flopping and shifting allegiances can be the rule and not the exception, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) stands out as remarkably consistent. Unfortunately for us, he’s consistent on blocking women’s access to affordable health services. For two years in a row, in his role as Chair of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, Rehberg submitted a budget that eliminates funding to Planned Parenthood and to the Title X family planning programs that provide health care access to nearly five million low-income women every year. Do we have to say yet again that federal law already prevents taxpayer funds from funding abortion services? So in cutting funds to these programs, Rehberg is really advocating eliminating badly needed preventative health care, such as cancer screenings, to low-income women? In the 2013 budget, Rehberg added provision that would let all employers block contraception coverage from employees for “moral objections” even though the birth control mandate already allows this exemption for religious organizations. Basically, this is Rehberg doing a mulligan on the failed Blunt Amendment (see Item 5 on this list).
- Rep. Trent Franks pushes unenforceable PReNDA. – In May 2012, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), one of the House’s most prominent anti-abortion legislators, introduced the Prenatal Discrimination Act, to ban “sex-selective abortions” – the practice wherein women choose to terminate pregnancies because they are carrying female fetuses. Call us cynical but we could not help but be perplexed when Franks and his House GOP colleagues touted this bill as civil rights legislation, given the party’s typical insistence that not only are existing civil rights laws more than adequate, but that liberals should not be so quick to assume that gender discrimination is widespread. Indeed, they argued that gender discrimination in U.S. abortions was widespread, a claim not backed up by fact. Put simply, PReNDA was designed to put more legal obstacles between women and abortion services. Under the law medical professionals would be required to report “suspected” discriminatory abortions or face possible criminal charges. The legislation would also allow a woman’s partner or parents to sue an abortion provider if they suspect she got an abortion because of the fetus’ gender. The vagueness of the law would have resulted in any woman terminating the pregnancy where the fetus turned out to be female to be suspect. The chilling effect of the law on women’s health service providers would have been immeasurable. Women’s rights groups including Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights joined with medical associations and civil rights groups in opposing this bill, which failed to get the required two-thirds majority to pass. It only fell short by 30 votes, though, something voters who support reproductive rights need to remember when they go to the polls this November.