Bait and Switch Politics: Welcome to the 112th Congress

Will Neville

It's the morning after and voters are in for a frightening surprise: the 112th Congress's silent bait-and-switch social agenda.

This article was originally published at, a project of Advocates for Youth.

Welcome to the morning after.

With too much caffeine and too little sleep, it seems that everyone is struggling to make sense of last night’s election results.  Depending on who’s doing the talking, Republican’s picked up 60 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives because President Obama and the Democratic Congress spent the last two years adopting extreme liberal policies that overreached their mandate for “change.” Or they simply weren’t liberal enough (at all?) and spent too much time compromising their own principles on a quixotic quest for bipartisanship.  Last night was a resounding victory for Tea Party Republicans – who picked up 39 seats in Congress – yet it also proved that the American people resoundingly reject Tea Party ideology, leaving three extra Senate seats in Democratic hands.  The media, politicians, pundits and seemingly all of The Internets are busily writing history this morning, and we’ll just have to wait and see which interpretation wins out.

According to CNN exit polls:

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Sixty-two percent of voters named the economy as their most important issue this year. Health care ranked a distant second, at 19 percent, with illegal immigration and Afghanistan trailing at 8 and 7 percent.

 This seems right on track with what we’ve seen from other news outlets.  To the vast majority of voters, this election was about the economy and – to a lesser degree – about health care reform.  It may have been about President Obama and possibly still about President Bush.  Practically the only argument that no one is making this morning is that last night’s election was a national referendum on social issues*.

Let me, then, step into that lonely void.

Yesterday’s election marks a dramatic return to the culture wars.

The 112th Congress will be dominated by fights over social issues, from abortion to family planning to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Two years from now, we will look back on November 2, 2010, as the day that far-right Republicans used a wave of economic frustration to usher in the most anti-choice, anti-sex ed, anti-LGBT, anti-family planning, anti-contraception Congress in our nation’s history.

And this “bait and switch” will take most of the country entirely by surprise.


There is no doubt that we have made tremendous progress over the last few years when it comes to federal policy guiding sex education funding.  We’ve seen the elimination of two-thirds of the federal funding for failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that censor critical, life-saving information about condoms and birth control.  We’ve also witnessed the created of a new $180 million evidence-based federal program for teen pregnancy prevention and sex education. 

Both of these achievements will likely be at risk under Speaker Boehner’s new Republican majority.  Funding for comprehensive sex education is too obvious – and too symbolic – of a political target to avoid a fight.  And a return to abstinence-only-until-marriage ideology would be a win for a conservative base that expects immediate, tangible results.   

Too briefly, sanity has prevailed in Washington, with politicians finally denying funding to virginity pledge programs, purity balls, and abstinence clowns.  Science-driven sex education policy isn’t going down without a fight, but it’s going to be high on the list of visible reversals to symbolically “overturn the Obama agenda.”


The Republican Party platform has long included a provision calling for a Constitutional Amendment to outlaw abortion and apply full “personhood” protections that would begin at conception. 

At least 78 Republican House and Senate candidates would – if given the opportunity – vote to make abortion illegal under ALL circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest.  [Once we have the chance to fully tally how many of these candidates won last night, we’ll be sure to post an update.]  And at least one – Senator elect (and Tea Party candidate) Pat Toomey – would jail doctors for performing abortion procedures.

Most attempts to further restrict access to abortion will continue at the state level, although some new members of Congress are shockingly vocal about their support for extreme measures to eliminate a woman’s decision about when and if to become a mother.  But, the anti-abortion movement is eager to capitalize on their success in Congress with the Stupak and Nelson amendments in health care reform.  Their strategy will almost certainly avoid federal legislation to overtly restrict abortion access.  Rather, they will continue to create strategic media firestorms designed to force Democrats to go beyond the letter of the law in restricting abortion coverage and access.

This strategy has already proved to be a winning one with the Obama administration: Despite health care reform overtly banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortion care or insurance coverage for abortion procedure, under vocal pressure from anti-abortion advocates, President Obama issued an executive order unnecessarily reaffirming this position.  The tactic succeeded again when the National Right to Life Committee claimed that abortions would be paid for with federal funds when the High Risk Insurance Pools first went into effect.  The Department of Health and Human services responded by banning all abortion coverage in the High Risk Pools, except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is at risk.  Upon examination, the ACLU characterized the move as a “voluntary” restriction on women’s access to abortion.

Will the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats continue to impose further voluntary restrictions on abortion access in the United States? The National Right to Life Committee and their allies certainly know that they have a winning strategy on their hands. 

Time will tell, but it certainly seems that Democrats can simply be bullied into giving away women’s rights.


Domestically, expect to see the anti-abortion forced-capitulation strategy above repeated with a new target: birth control.

The Family Research Council has already announced this as a new priority:

Is Fertility a “Pre-existing Condition?”  

Planned Parenthood certainly thinks so. That’s why the country’s biggest abortion provider is pushing to include free birth control as part of the new health care law. Making a change in the law would not only add billions more to the tab, but it would force Americans to pay for something they shouldn’t. Birth control is not only optional, it’s objectionable to some people. Despite what Planned Parenthood may believe, fertility (like pregnancy) isn’t a disease. It shouldn’t be placed in the same category as other basic types of medical care. FRC Action has actively lobbied against the possibility of making abortion a preventive service for women and will continue to do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen.

Currently, Title X family planning funding recipients are able to use funds to provide free or discounted birth control, and the 340B Drug Pricing Program makes birth control options affordable at campus health centers and at health clinics around the country. 

The same political framework that has been used to ban federal funding for and restrict access to legal abortion care – “Some people find this morally objectionable, therefore we can’t let any federal tax dollars pay for this!” – will invariably be used to attack access to and subsidies for birth control in the coming months and years.

Turning our attention to U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid, we can also expect Representative Chris Smith (NJ) and his compatriots to lead an full-on attack against international family planning and abortion access – even though complications from pregnancy, including childbirth and unsafe abortion, is the leading cause of death for young women ages 15-17 in low and middle income countries.


In light of a tragic series of teen suicides related to anti-LGBT bullying and our culture’s pervasive homophobia, we should be able to expect the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act to be top Congressional priorities and to pass with broad (if not unanimous) bipartisan support. 

We have witnessed an incredible groundswell of outrage and compassion over the past weeks and months, as millions of people from across the country have come together to speak out on behalf of LGBT young people and to take a stand against bullying in all forms. 

However, the intemperate rhetoric of some religious conservatives attempting to denigrate these efforts as attempts to “promote the homosexual agenda” we can expect to see the new majority delay – or simply block – these critical pieces of legislation.

Some context:

Montana Big Sky Tea Party leader Tim Ravndal joked about murdering gays on Facebook, even asking for a copy of  “that printed Wyoming instruction manual” – since Wyoming’s proud history includes the slaughter of Matthew Shepard.  Ravndal was eventually fired for his remarks, but he is now the head of a new group – Lewis and Clark’s Conservative Tea Party.

Arkansas school board member Clint McCance posted: “Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide.” After a media firestorm, McCance resigned and apologized for his remarks. 


The American Family Association’s Bryan Fisher recently remarked that “If we want to see fewer students commit suicide, we want fewer homosexual students.”

These kind of comments have become commonplace within the dialogue of the Tea Party and the “family values” conservative alliance. To our knowledge, no members of Congress have vocally opposed protections for LGBT students – but you can bet that there would be hell to pay (to some minds, literally) for acknowledging that LGBT young people have a right to exist, much less that they might somehow deserve to live without fear of harassment or physical violence.

Just a reminder that nearly 9 in 10 LGBT youth experience harassment in schools.  More than 1 in 4 were physically harassed or assaulted in the past year, and nearly two-thirds reported feeling unsafe in school environments.  According to research conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), “students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.”

Congress has a responsibility to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act without delay.  Whether they will do so – or if student safety will be held hostage by far-right ideology – remains to be seen.

It is dismayingly likely that the 112th Congress will see ideology again (and again and again) trump science and human rights.  The new Republican majority was able to capitalize on an electoral wave of voter unease with the status quo.  Their promises of job creation and economic recovery will certainly continue throughout the next two years – as spending freezes, budget cuts to social programs, tax cuts, and deregulation will dominate the discourse.

There is also clear evidence that the ideological caucus within the Republican Party – not limited to Tea Party members, but certainly bolstered by their newfound presence – will be busy from the outset promoting an anti-abortion, anti-sex ed anti-family planning, anti-LGBT agenda.

The pundits and experts may eventually write off this election as just another historic check on one-party rule during a rough economy.  But voters are in for a frightening surprise: the 112th Congress comes with a silent bait-and-switch social agenda.

Let’s look back at that CNN exit polling:

Sixty-two percent of voters named the economy as their most important issue this year. Health care ranked a distant second, at 19 percent, with illegal immigration and Afghanistan trailing at 8 and 7 percent.

Ninety-six percent of voters named something other than social issues as their top priority.  I’m sadly certain that many among the new Republican majority would disagree.

I want to give the last word to Adam Brandon, communications director for FreedomWorks, the conservative group that has funded and organized much of the Tea Party’s activities during this election cycle.

“The Tea Party is done with street protests,” he says. “We’re done, that’s it. Now we’ve got Congress.” Now comes the policymaking.

For those who say the Tea Party has no legislative ideas, Brandon has three words: “Here it comes.”

*There were state and local fights over cultural and social issues, to be sure.  Amendment 62 in Colorado – which would grant “personhood” and legal rights “to every human being from the beginning of biological development,” i.e. from conception – failed by a 3 to 1 margin. California managed to defend it’s landmark global warming law at the same time that state’s voters rejected legalizing marijuana.  And three of Iowa’s Supreme Court Justices, all of whom ruled on behalf of marriage equality for same-sex couples, were voted out of office as a result of a massive out-of-state campaign by the National Organization for Marriage.

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