Analysis Law and Policy

Budget Showdown Casualties: D.C. Women as Bargaining Chips

Antoinette Bonsignore

How D.C.'s women were sacrificed and the implications for future policy.

On March 29th Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) sent a letter to President Obama asking for his leadership in preventing the House GOP from using D.C. riders as “bargaining chips” in the budget negotiations.  Congresswoman Norton wrote, “…recent media reports indicate that perhaps some D.C. riders may have emerged as bargaining chips in the CR negotiations, with some mentioning a prohibition on the use of the city’s local funds for abortions for low-income women in particular.”  She went on to explain: 

H.R. 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, re-imposes the bans on the District’s use of its local taxpayer raised-funds for abortions for low-income women and for needle-exchange programs, and reestablishes the failed D.C. voucher program.  Not only do the spending bans violate the District’s right to self-government; they have seriously harmed our residents.  It would be unacceptable to use the District’s low income women as a bargaining chip at a time when women’s rights advocates and the District have been particularly focused on protecting the city from a return to this restriction.  Allowing prohibition on using the city’s own funds to give choice to low-income women would send the wrong signal from Democrats on a pending bill, H.R. 3, that goes even further by writing this restriction into permanent law. 

Congresswoman Norton’s fears were realized on Friday night when the President Obama and Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid capitulated to the House GOP’s extortion tactics and included “…a provision banning the District from spending its own funds to provide abortions to low-income women as well as funding to continue a controversial school voucher program” in the stopgap measure designed to avert a government shutdown.  Using the D.C riders as bargaining chips contravenes the very notion of democratic representation within Congress.  D.C. residents have no actual voting power within Congress and therefore had no capacity to even register a vote against the stopgap measure on Friday night. 

Almost predicting what was about to happen to D.C. women, “[o]n Friday night…Norton said:

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‘We are in great danger of becoming bargained as we feared, despite my conversation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a few days ago, and the many conversations I have had with the Administration’.”

On Sunday, Congresswoman Norton remarked on the Democratic betrayal.  She told the New York Times, “[i]t looks to me that we were easy enough to throw under a bus, and that’s where we landed…When the Republicans demanded the district, they gave them the district…We feel sold out.”  

Now that President Obama and Senator Reid have bargained away D.C.’s right to self government and ignored Congresswoman Norton’s pleas – the question that all pro-choice women should be asking themselves is, what will the Democrats bargain away next? 

The President’s statement on Saturday declared that the agreement to avert a shutdown was “…good news for the American people.”  The President then qualified that declaration with the following assertion, “[l]ike any compromise, this required everyone to give ground on issues that were important to them.  I certainly did.  Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful…And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.  But we also prevented this important debate from being overtaken by politics and unrelated disagreements on social issues.”  (Except for D.C.’s right to self government regarding abortion access and a controversial school voucher program.)  I guess President Obama forgot to include the following asterisk next to that last statement.

When the budget negotiations ramp up for FY 2012, what other reproductive rights will be sacrificed for the sake of compromise?  How far will the President be willing to stretch the definition of preventing the budget debate from being overtaken by “unrelated disagreements on social issues?”

The GOP is forcing the President further and further towards the right.  They have managed to convince many Americans that these deep budget cuts will actually benefit the economy; all the while savaging the poor and the middle class.  What is most frightening is that the President appears unwilling to put up a fight.  The GOP is now emboldened to hold the President and the Democrats hostage once again as the deadline for raising the federal debt ceiling fast approaches.  And even though the mainstream media continues to present the Tea Party as valiant fiscal conservatives, rest assured they are more than willing to bring about a government default on the debt to garner extreme ideological victories that have nothing to do with fiscal austerity. 

At a fundraiser this weekend, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “[t]here will not be an increase in the debt limit without something really, really big attached to it.” 

The D.C. riders have absolutely nothing to do with the budget.  More importantly, the D.C. rider regarding abortion access does not “…actually save the federal government any money, since the rider would prohibit the District from spending its own locally-raised dollars on the procedure.”  And “[t]he good news for pro-life advocates is that the inclusion of…[this rider]…in the one-week continuing resolution ensures it remains in place to prohibit abortion funding in the nation’s capital for the rest of the year.” 

Similarly, the Planned Parenthood de-funding negotiations also had nothing to do with the budget.  In fact, defunding Planned Parenthood would actually increase the deficit

But why should the House GOP be concerned with fact and figures – they’re not interested in deficit reduction; they’re interested in imposing a social agenda on women to further reduce our economic and political power in the U.S.  And one sure way to move the country in that direction is to eliminate access to reproductive health care in this country – not just for low income women that primarily use Planned Parenthood as their sole health care provider but by removing access to insurance coverage for abortion services through the President’s signature piece of legislation – the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The National Women’s Law Center reports that currently“[i]n eleven states (AZ, ID, KY, LA, OK, MO, MS, ND, TN, UT, VA) women will not be allowed to use their own private money to purchase an exchange-based health plan that covers abortion services, and also may not be able to purchase a plan that provides insurance coverage for abortion at all.” 

And since ACA “…explicitly allows states to pass laws banning private insurance coverage of abortion in any exchange set up in their state,”  this problem will only get worse over time until it becomes too burdensome for any insurance carrier to offer abortion coverage.  We will eventually see all women – low-income and middle income, being deprived of basic access to abortion care services.  ACA may turn out to be the precise vehicle by which anti-choice state legislatures completely extinguish insurance coverage for abortion services in this country. 

The National Women’s Law Center concluded that:

“[b]ans on insurance coverage for abortion are dangerous to women’s health, take away access to health benefits that most women already have, and reflect an effort by state politicians to punish private health decisions and private health insurance, with the ultimate goal of further restricting access to abortion.” 

And of course, the provision allowing states to ban private insurance coverage for abortion services was yet another compromise from the White House that bargained away women’s reproductive rights. 

Meanwhile, the White House’s silence in response to the onslaught of extreme anti-choice state legislation  has been deafening.  NARAL Pro-Choice America reports that last year 174 anti-abortion bills were introduced in state legislatures throughout the country.  So far, this year, 351 anti-abortion bills have been introduced in the state legislatures.

NARAL Pro-Choice American Foundation sounded the alarm about the threat to D.C. abortion rights back in January.  Here’s some history on the Hyde Amendment and the prohibition on abortion access in D.C.

  • Beginning in 1980, Congress prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion services for low‐income women, with exceptions for cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest.
  • From 1988 to 1993, Congress also prohibited the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised revenues to provide abortion services to its residents.
  • In 1993 and 1994, Congress voted to lift the restriction on the use of locally raised revenues and allow the District to decide how to spend its own locally raised monies, as all 50 states do.
  • In 1995, an anti‐choice congressional majority reinstated the ban on the use of locally raised revenues in the District.
  • In 2009, prompted by President Obama, Congress again lifted the ban on the District’s use of its own privately raised funds to provide abortion care to its low‐income residents.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 60,500 non-elderly Medicaid‐enrolled women may be affected by the reinstated ban; this is indeed “…a cruel blow to the poor and largely African-American women who need those services.”

NARAL also emphasizes that “[n]o other jurisdiction or state is told how to use its locally raised revenue.”  And the D.C. prohibition disregards “…the 1980 Supreme Court decision Harris v. McRae which upheld the right of Congress to restrict the use of federal funds to provide abortion care to low‐income women, but clearly asserted that state funds used to provide abortion services for low‐income women is a state, not federal, decision.” 

Back in December 2007 then candidate Obama responded to a Rewire questionnaire regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights.  Then Senator Obama’s staff responded to this question: Does Sen. Obama support the Hyde amendment?  Under what circumstances does he believe that Medicaid should cover abortions (all pregnancies, life- or health-threatening pregnancies, pregnancies that are a result of rape or incest, extreme fetal malformation)?

The answer:

Obama does not support the Hyde amendment.  He believes that the federal government should not use its dollars to intrude on a poor woman’s decision whether to carry to term or to terminate her pregnancy and selectively withhold benefits because she seeks to exercise her right of reproductive choice in a manner the government disfavors.

Abortion access is the only fundamental constitutional right that is constrained by how much money a woman has and how far away she lives from an abortion provider.  What other constitutional right is constrained in such a dangerous manner that so clearly discriminates against low-income women?

Yet, the impact of the Hyde Amendment continues to grow; and there seems to be next to no political will to do anything about it.  The result — poor women bear the greatest burden of this legal discrimination.  And the discriminatory effect is felt most acutely by women of color and in immigrant communities.

The Nation’s Melissa Harris-Perry recently explained “[t]oday’s conservatives… seek to define women’s citizenship as rooted in motherhood, and they are prepared to use state power to enforce this vision.”  Furthermore, the House GOP’s “…belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere… forcing women back into the domestic sphere.”  Simply put, a woman who cannot control her own “…fertility will be unable to compete for degrees or jobs with their male counterparts.” 

So how should the pro-choice community respond to this attack on the D.C.’s right to self governance; this imposition of big, intrusive government regulation on women’s private health care choices? 

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow have recently emphasized how little respect Democrats, specifically the White House, have for their base.  Maddow commented that the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military commission was announced on the very day President Obama kicked off his 2012 campaign.  She noted that the Democratic party hates their base and that “…they think it’s good politics for Democratic politicians to kick that base publicly whenever possible.  Only the base itself will ever change that.”  So while the GOP fears its base and “play to them,” Democrats consider their base irrelevant.  Greenwald, using Maddow’s commentary, discusses how the Democratic base can begin to “change this dynamic…”   

Americans that believe reproductive rights should not be a luxury enjoyed only by women who can afford the cost must stop demonstrating their unqualified and loyal support for Democrats regardless of their actions.  President Obama and the Democrats have no incentive to fight for reproductive justice for all women if they know that those same women will support their campaigns no matter what they do.   

Greenwald states, “[a]nyone who pledges unconditional, absolute fealty to a politician — especially 18 months before an election — is guaranteeing their own irrelevance.” 

Pro-choice advocates must stop settling for crumbs from the Democrats and from President Obama and begin to demand more.  Until and unless we demand more we will continue to see our reproductive rights betrayed and bargained away, all in the name of compromise. 

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.

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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.”

Commentary Politics

Is Clinton a Progressive? Not If She Chooses Tim Kaine

Jodi Jacobson

The selection of Tim Kaine as vice president would be the first signal that Hillary Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton has frequently claimed to be a progressive, though she often adds the unnecessary and bewildering caveat that she’s a “progressive who likes to get things done.” I’ve never been sure what that is supposed to mean, except as a possible prelude to or excuse for giving up progressive values to seal some unknown deal in the future; as a way of excusing herself from fighting for major changes after she is elected; or as a way of saying progressives are only important to her campaign until after they leave the voting booth.

One of the first signals of whether Clinton actually believes in a progressive agenda will be her choice of running mate. Reports are that Sen. Tim Kaine, former Virginia governor, is the top choice. The selection of Kaine would be the first signal that Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

We’ve seen this happen before. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama claimed to be a progressive. By virtue of having a vision for and promise of real change in government and society, and by espousing transparency and responsibility, he won by a landslide. In fact, Obama even called on his supporters, including the millions activated by the campaign’s Organizing for Action (OFA), to keep him accountable throughout his term. Immediately after the election, however, “progressives” were out and the right wing of the Democratic party was “in.”

Obama’s cabinet members in both foreign policy and the economy, for example, were drawn from the center and center-right of the party, leaving many progressives, as Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote in the Washington Post in 2009, “disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied.” Obama chose Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, a man with a reputation from the days of Bill Clinton’s White House for a reluctance to move bold policies—lest they upset Wall Street or conservative Democrats—and a deep disdain for progressives. With Emanuel as gatekeeper of policies and Valerie Jarrett consumed with the “Obama Brand” (whatever that is), the White House suddenly saw “progressives” as the problem.

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It became clear that instead of “the change we were hoping for,” Obama had started on an impossible quest to “cooperate” and “compromise” on bad policies with the very party that set out to destroy him before he was even sworn in. Obama and Emanuel preempted efforts to push for a public option for health-care reform, despite very high public support at the time. Likewise, the White House failed to push for other progressive policies that would have been a slam dunk, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a major goal of the labor movement that would have made it easier to enroll workers in unions. With a 60-vote Democratic Senate majority, this progressive legislation could easily have passed. Instead, the White House worked to support conservative Democrat then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s efforts to kill it, and even sent Vice President Joe Biden to Arkansas to campaign for her in her run for re-election. She lost anyway.

They also allowed conservatives to shelve plans for an aggressive stimulus package in favor of a much weaker one, for the sole sake of “bipartisanship,” a move that many economists have since criticized for not doing enough.  As I wrote years ago, these decisions were not only deeply disappointing on a fundamental level to those of us who’d put heart and soul into the Obama campaign, but also, I personally believe, one of the main reasons Obama later lost the midterms and had a hard time governing.  He was not elected to implement GOP lite, and there was no “there, there” for the change that was promised. Many people deeply devoted to making this country better for working people became fed up.

Standing up for progressive principles is not so hard, if you actually believe in them. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) is a progressive who actually puts her principles into action, like the creation against all odds in 2011 of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, perhaps the single most important progressive achievement of the past 20 years. Among other things, the CFPB  shields consumers from the excesses of mortgage lenders, student loan servicers, and credit card companies that have caused so much economic chaos in the past decade. So unless you are more interested in protecting the status quo than addressing the root causes of the many problems we now face, a progressive politician would want a strong progressive running mate.

By choosing Tim Kaine as her vice president, Clinton will signal that she values progressives in name and vote only.

As Zach Carter wrote in the Huffington Post, Kaine is “setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.” Kaine is in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement largely negotiated in secret and by corporate lobbyists. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose voters Clinton needs to win over, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren oppose the TPP because, in Warren’s words, it “would tilt the playing field even more in favor of … big multinational corporations and against working families.”

The progressive agenda includes strong emphasis on effective systems of governance and oversight of banks and financial institutions—the actors responsible, as a result of deregulation, for the major financial crises of the past 16 years, costing the United States trillions of dollars and gutting the financial security of many middle-class and low-income people.

As Warren has stated:

Washington turned a blind eye as risks were packaged and re-packaged, magnified, and then sold to unsuspecting pension funds, municipal governments, and many others who believed the markets were honest. Not long after the cops were blindfolded and the big banks were turned loose, the worst crash since the 1930s hit the American economy—a crash that the Dallas Fed estimates has cost a collective $14 trillion. The moral of this story is simple: Without basic government regulation, financial markets don’t work. That’s worth repeating: Without some basic rules and accountability, financial markets don’t work. People get ripped off, risk-taking explodes, and the markets blow up. That’s just an empirical fact—clearly observable in 1929 and again in 2008. The point is worth repeating because, for too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast this debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp, generally putting Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second. But that so-called choice gets it wrong. Rules are not the enemy of markets. Rules are a necessary ingredient for healthy markets, for markets that create competition and innovation. And rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.

If Hillary Clinton were actually a progressive, this would be key to her agenda. If so, Tim Kaine would be a curious choice as VP, and a middle finger of sorts to those who support financial regulations. In the past several weeks, Kaine has been publicly advocating for greater deregulation of banks. As Carter reported yesterday, “Kaine signed two letters on Monday urging federal regulators to go easy on banks―one to help big banks dodge risk management rules, and another to help small banks avoid consumer protection standards.”

Kaine is also trying to portray himself as “anti-choice lite.” For example, he recently signed onto the Women’s Health Protection Act. But as we’ve reported, as governor of Virginia, Kaine supported restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which, he claimed in 2008, gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute. In other words, like many others who let ideology rather than public health guide their policy decisions, Kaine put in place policies that are not supported by the evidence and that make it more difficult for women to gain access to abortion, steps he has not denounced. This is unacceptable. The very last thing we need is another person in the White House who further stigmatizes abortion, though it must be said Clinton herself seems chronically unable to speak about abortion without euphemism.

While there are many other reasons a Kaine pick would signal a less-than-secure and values-driven Clinton presidency, the fact also stands that he is a white male insider at a time when the rising electorate is decidedly not white and quite clearly looking for strong leadership and meaningful change. Kaine is not the change we seek.

The conventional wisdom these days is that platforms are merely for show and vice presidential picks don’t much matter. I call foul; that’s an absolutely cynical lens through which to view policies. What you say and with whom you affiliate yourself do indeed matter. And if Clinton chooses Kaine, we know from the outset that progressives have a fight on their hands, not only to avoid the election of an unapologetic fascist, but to ensure that the only person claiming the progressive mantle actually means what she says.