Weekly Pulse: What Do GOP Gains Mean for Health Care? Abortion Rights?

Lindsay Beyerstein

As a group, the eight ultra-radical, anti-choice Republican Senate candidates had mixed results last night. Three wins, two sure losses, and three likely losses that haven’t been definitively called.

The Republicans gained ground in last night’s midterm elections, recapturing the House and gaining seats in the Senate. The future House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) wasted no time in affirming that the GOP will try to repeal health care reform.

A full-scale repeal is unlikely in the next two years because the Democrats have retained control of the White House and the Senate. However, Republicans are already making noises about shutting down the government to force the issue. The House controls the nation’s purse strings, which confers significant leverage if the majority is willing to bring the government to a screeching halt to make a point.

Don’t assume they’ll blink. The GOP shut down government in 1995, albeit to its own political detriment. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and his allies have sworn a “blood oath” to shut down the government, regardless of the consequences. The Republicans may actually succeed in modifying minor aspects of the Affordable Care Act, such as the controversial 1099 reporting requirement for small business.

The most significant threat to the implementation of health care reform may be at the state level.  Republicans picked up several governorships, and the Affordable Care Act requires the cooperation of states to set up their own insurance exchanges. Hostile governors could seriously impede things.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Mixed results for radical, anti-choice senate candidates

As a group, the eight ultra-radical, anti-choice Republican Senate candidates had mixed results last night. Three wins, two sure losses, and three likely losses that haven’t been definitively called. Voters didn’t seem thrilled about electing senators who oppose a woman’s right to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

Two cruised to victory: Rand Paul easily defeated Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky.  Paul is one of the most extreme the of a radical cohort. As Amie Newman reported in Rewire, Paul doesn’t even believe in a woman’s right to abort to save her own life. In Florida, anti-choice standard bearer Marco Rubio defeated Independent Charlie Christ.

Another radical anti-choicer, Pat Toomey, who favors jailing abortion providers, narrowly edged out Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania.

Two were soundly defeated. Evangelical code-talker Sharron Angle lost to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and anti-masturbation crusader Christine O’Donnell lost to Chris Coons in Delaware.

The last three radical anti-choice senate candidates were down, but not, out as of this morning. Democrat Sen. Michael Bennett leads Republican Ken Buck by just 15,000 votes out of over 1.5 million ballots cast, according to TPMDC. Planned Parenthood launched an 11th hour offensive against Buck because of his retrograde stances on abortion, sexual assault, and other women’s issues, as Joseph Boven reports for the Colorado Independent.

This morning, Tea Party Republican Joe Miller was trailing behind incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who challenged him as an Independent, but no winner had been declared. In Washington State, Democrat Sen. Patti Murray maintains a 1% lead over radical anti-choicer Republican Dino Rossi.

Are fertilized eggs people in Colorado?

Coloradans won a decisive victory for reproductive rights last night. Fertilized eggs are still not people in Colorado, as Jodi Jacobson reports for Rewire.

Amendment 62, which would have conferred full person status from the moment of conception, thereby outlawing abortion and in vitro fertilization. It also called into question the legality of many forms of birth control, including an array of medical procedures for pregnant women that might harm their fetuses. The proposed amendment was resoundingly defeated: 72% against to 28% in favor. This is the second time Colorado voters have rejected an egg-as-person amendment.

Blue Dogs and anti-choice Dems feel the pain

Last night was brutal for corporatist Democrats who fought the more progressive options for health care reform and Democrats who put their anti-choice ideology ahead passing health care. In AlterNet, Sarah Seltzer reports only 12 of the 34 Democrats who voted against health care reform hung on to their seats. The Blue Dog caucus was halved overnight from 56 to 24. Nick Baumann of Mother Jones speculated that the midterms would mark the end of the Stupak bloc, the coalition of anti-choice Democrats whose last-minute brinksmanship could have derailed health care reform.

Did foot-dragging on health care hurt Democrats?

Jamelle Bouie suggests at TAPPED that Democrats shot themselves in the foot by passing a health care reform bill that won’t provide tangible benefits to most people for years. The exchanges that are supposed to provide affordable insurance for millions of Americans won’t be up and running until 2014.

In Summer 2009, Former DNC chair Howard Dean predicted that the Democrats would be penalized at the polls if they failed to deliver tangible benefits from health care reform before the midterm elections. That’s why Dean suggested expanding the public health insurance programs we already have, rather than creating insurance exchanges from scratch.

Sink, sunk by Scott

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones profiles Rick Scott, the billionaire health clinic mogul, corporate fraudster, and enemy of health care reform who spent over $50 million of his own money to eke out a very narrow victory over Democrat Alex Sink in the Florida governor’s race.

Apparently, many Floridians were willing to overlook the fact that Scott had to pay a $1.7 billion fine for defrauding Medicare, the largest fine of its kind in history. Scott also spent $5 million of his own money to found Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, one of the leading independent groups opposing health care reform.

Pot isn’t legalized in California

California defeated Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana for personal use. David Borden of DRCnet, a pro-legalization group, writes in AlterNet that the fight over Prop 19 brought legalization into the political mainstream, even if the measure didn’t prevail at the polls. The initiative won the backing of the California NAACP, SEIU California, the National Black Police Association, and the National Latino Officers Association and other established groups.

So, what’s next for health care reform? The question everyone is asking is whether John Boehner will cave to the extremists in his own party and attempt a full-scale government shutdown, or whether the Republicans will content themselves with extracting piecemeal modifications of the health care law.

Commentary Politics

Democrats’ Latest Platform Silent on Discriminatory Welfare System

Lauren Rankin

The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

While the Republican Party has adopted one of the most regressive, punitive, and bigoted platforms in recent memory, the Democratic Party seems to be moving decisively in the opposite direction. The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. It calls for a federal minimum wage of $15; a full repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion care; and a federal nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

All three of these are in direct response to the work of grassroots activists and coalitions that have been shifting the conversation and pushing the party to the left.

But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the party platform draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

It’s been 20 years since President Bill Clinton proudly declared that “we are ending welfare as we know it” when he signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 implemented dramatic changes to welfare payments and eligibility, putting in place the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In the two decades since its enactment, TANF has not only proved to be blatantly discriminatory, but it has done lasting damage.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

In one fell swoop, TANF ended the federal guarantee of support to low-income single mothers that existed under the now-defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. AFDC had become markedly unpopular and an easy target by the time President Clinton signed welfare reform legislation into law, with the racist, mythic trope of the “welfare queen” becoming pervasive in the years leading up to AFDC’s demise.

Ronald Reagan popularized this phrase while running for president in 1976 and it caught fire, churning up public resentment against AFDC and welfare recipients, particularly Black women, who were painted as lazy and mooching off the government. This trope underwrote much of conservative opposition to AFDC; among other things, House Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America,” co-authored by Newt Gingrich, demanded an end to AFDC and vilified teen mothers and low-income mothers with multiple children.

TANF radically restructured qualifications for welfare assistance, required that recipients sustain a job in order to receive benefits, and ultimately eliminated the role of the federal state in assisting poor citizens. The promise of AFDC and welfare assistance more broadly, including SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) benefits, is that the federal government has an inherent role of caring for and providing for its most vulnerable citizens. With the implementation of TANF, that promise was deliberately broken.

At the time of its passage, Republicans and many Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, touted TANF as a means of motivating those receiving assistance to lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, meaning they would now have to work while receiving benefits. But the idea that those in poverty can escape poverty simply by working harder and longer evades the fact that poverty is cyclical and systemic. Yet, that is what TANF did: It put the onus for ending poverty on the individual, rather than dealing with the structural issues that perpetuate the state of being in poverty.

TANF also eliminated any federal standard of assistance, leaving it up to individual states to determine not only the amount of financial aid that they provide, but what further restrictions state lawmakers wish to place on recipients. Not only that, but the federal TANF program instituted a strict, lifetime limit of five years for families to receive aid and a two-year consecutive limit, which only allows an individual to receive two years of consecutive aid at a time. If after five total years they still require assistance to care for their family and themself, no matter their circumstances, they are simply out of luck.

That alone is an egregious violation of our inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, TANF went a step further: It also allowed states to institute more pernicious, discriminatory policies. In order to receive public assistance benefits through TANF, low-income single mothers are subjected to intense personal scrutiny, sexual and reproductive policing, and punitive retribution that does not exist for public assistance recipients in programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs, programs that Democrats not only continue to support, but use as a rallying cry. And yet, few if any Democrats are crying out for a more just welfare system.

There are so many aspects of TANF that should motivate progressives, but perhaps none more than the family cap and forced paternity identification policies.

Welfare benefits through the TANF program are most usually determined by individual states based on household size, and family caps allow a state to deny welfare recipients’ additional financial assistance after the birth of another child. At least 19 states currently have family cap laws on the books, which in some cases allow the state to deny additional assistance to recipients who give birth to another child. 

Ultimately, this means that if a woman on welfare becomes pregnant, she is essentially left with deciding between terminating her pregnancy or potentially losing her welfare benefits, depending on which state she lives in. This is not a free and valid choice, but is a forced state intervention into the private reproductive practices of the women on welfare that should appall and enrage progressive Democrats.

TANF’s “paternafare,” or forced paternity identification policy, is just as egregious. Single mothers receiving TANF benefits are forced to identify the father of their children so that the state may contact and demand financial payment from them. This differs from nonwelfare child support payments, in which the father provides assistance directly to the single mother of his child; this policy forces the fathers of low-income single women on welfare to give their money directly to the state rather than the mother of their child. For instance, Indiana requires TANF recipients to cooperate with their local county prosecutor’s child support program to establish paternity. Some states, like Utah, lack an exemption for survivors of domestic violence as well as children born of rape and incest, as Anna Marie Smith notes in her seminal work Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation. This means that survivors of domestic violence may be forced to identify and maintain a relationship with their abusers, simply because they are enrolled in TANF.

The reproductive and sexual policing of women enrolled in TANF is a deeply discriminatory and unconstitutional intrusion. And what’s also disconcerting is that the program has failed those enrolled in it.

TANF was created to keep single mothers from remaining on welfare rolls for an indeterminate amount of time, but also with the express goal of ensuring that these young women end up in the labor force. It was touted by President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans as a realistic, work-based solution that could lift single mothers up out of poverty and provide opportunities for prosperity. In reality, it’s been a failure, with anywhere from 42 to 74 percent of those who exited the program remaining poor.

As Jordan Weissmann detailed over at Slate, while the number of women on welfare decreased significantly since 1996, TANF left in its wake a new reality: “As the rolls shrank, a new generation of so-called disconnected mothers emerged: single parents who weren’t working, in school, or receiving welfare to support themselves or their children. According to [the Urban Institute’s Pamela] Loprest, the number of these women rose from 800,000 in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2008.” Weissmann also noted that researchers have found an uptick in “deep or extreme poverty” since TANF went into effect.

Instead of a system that enables low-income single mothers a chance to escape the cycle of poverty, what we have is a racist system that denies aid to those who need it most, many of whom are people of color who have been and remain systemically impoverished.

The Democratic Party platform draft has an entire plank focused on how to “Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class,” but what about those in poverty? What about the discriminatory and broken welfare system we have in place that ensures not only that low-income single mothers feel stigmatized and demoralized, but that they lack the supportive structure to even get to the middle class at all? While the Democratic Party is developing strategies and potential policies to support the middle class, it is neglecting those who are in need the most, and who are suffering the most as a result of President Bill Clinton’s signature legislation.

While the national party has not budged on welfare reform since President Bill Clinton signed the landmark legislation in 1996, there has been some state-based movement. Just this month, New Jersey lawmakers, led by Democrats, passed a repeal of the state’s family cap law, which was ultimately vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. California was more successful, though: The state recently repealed its Maximum Family Grant rule, which barred individuals on welfare from receiving additional aid when they had more children.

It’s time for the national Democratic Party to do the same. For starters, the 2016 platform should include a specific provision calling for an end to family cap laws and forced paternity identification. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of reproductive freedom—demonstrated by its call to repeal both the federal Hyde and Helms amendments—that must include women who receive welfare assistance. But the Democrats should go even further: They must embrace and advance a comprehensive overhaul of our welfare system, reinstating the federal guarantee of financial support. The state-based patchwork welfare system must be replaced with a federal welfare assistance program, one that provides educational incentives as well as a base living wage.

Even President Bill Clinton and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton both acknowledge that the original welfare reform bill had serious issues. Today, this bill and its discriminatory legacy remain a progressive thorn in the side of the Democratic Party—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time for the party to admit that welfare reform was a failure, and a discriminatory one at that. It’s time to move from punishment and stigma to support and dignity for low-income single mothers and for all people living in poverty. It’s time to end TANF.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.