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 Amplifyyourvoice.org, 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:

Like This Story?

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

Donate Now

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.

SEX EDUCATION

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.”

ABORTION

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.

FAMILY PLANNING

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.

ANTI-BULLYING LEGISLATION

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.

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 (R-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.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

Like This Story?

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

Donate Now

A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.