Analysis Health Systems

House Vote Threatens Government Shutdown if Obamacare Not Defunded

Adele M. Stan

What do Friday's House vote, Ted Cruz's crusade, and a creepy anti-Obamacare ad have in common? They're all linked to the Koch brothers.

Click here for all our coverage of the government shutdown.

It’s hardly news anymore when the House of Representatives, controlled by a Republican majority, votes to put an end to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare. But Friday’s vote was different; it takes the operation of the federal government hostage unless funding for the implementation of the health-care law is revoked.

Because Congress is never able to pass a budget in a timely fashion (if at all), the funding of government operations depends on the periodic passage of continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep federal agencies running. H.J. Res. 59, the legislation passed in the House Friday 230-189, is a CR that includes a measure to defund the health-care law.

The ACA is expected to provide health insurance to 32 million uninsured Americans and strengthens coverage for those who already have health-care plans.

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But the Senate is controlled by Democrats, so a measure to defund the ACA will never pass in that body, meaning that House Republicans, effectively controlled by Tea Party extremists, have just brought the nation ever closer to the brink of a government shutdown.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was not keen to bring Friday’s vote to the floor. Memories of the 1995 government shutdown forced by Republicans under then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) loom large, memories of an electorate so angry over the shutdown that the Republicans lost eight seats in the 1996 congressional elections and Bill Clinton, the Democratic president, won re-election.

The Tea Party crowd in Congress, however, seems confident of its invincibility—or, just as likely, is so beholden to the forces intent on derailing President Barack Obama’s health-care plan that its members can consider no alternative. So on Wednesday, Boehner acceded to the demands of his party’s most far-right wing.

The driving force behind coupling the CR to the destruction of the health-care law is 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who keynoted the August conference sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) with a call to arms against Obamacare. AFPF and its sibling organization, known as Americans for Prosperity, were founded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who have pumped millions into the organization of the Tea Party movement, and organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the anti-Obamacare Center to Protect Patient Rights.

Americans for Prosperity spent an estimated $66 million on so-called issue ads during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, at least $33 million of that targeting Obama’s re-election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group was one of two powerful organizing entities arrayed against the passage of the ACA (the other was FreedomWorks, also founded with Koch money), and it has led the fight to repeal the law practically from the moment it was passed.

For the Kochs and their allies, Obamacare is a particular bugaboo. If it succeeds and people like it, that could spell an upturn in the electoral fortunes of Democrats. That’s why Generation Opportunity, a group that received $5 million last year from Freedom Partners, the Koch-linked dark money group, was created to try to convince college students not to purchase health insurance (as the Obamacare law requires the uninsured to do). Earlier this week, a particularly creepy Generation Opportunity video ad targeting college women hit the internet, featuring the image of a young woman on a gynecologist’s table, feet in stirrups, terrorized by a monstrous Uncle Sam standing between her legs, wielding a device used when collecting a pap test.

That ad, and Cruz’s crusade, are all of a Koch-driven piece.

Next week, the House bill will arrive in the Senate, where Cruz’s allies in the lower chamber will suffer a ringing defeat when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) strikes the defunding measure from the CR, passes it through the Senate, and sends it back to the House, where the Republican majority may fail to pass it in time to meet the October 1 deadline for funding the government.

That could be a big loser for the Republicans in the 2014 congressional elections. But for Cruz, any way it turns out could be a win of sorts. He’ll be positioned well in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, which are driven by a right-wing electorate that famously loathes the president, and anything that bears his name. Should Cruz win that nomination, he’ll have ingratiated himself with the people who spend tens of millions of dollars each cycle on political advertising.

And if he loses that presidential nomination? He’s not up again for reelection to his Senate seat until 2018. Plenty of time to recover.

Roundups Politics

The House Freedom Fund Bankrolls Some of Congress’ Most Anti-Choice Candidates

Ally Boguhn

With the 2016 election cycle underway, the political action committee seems to be working tirelessly to ensure the House Freedom Caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.

In its short existence, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) has made a name for itself through endless efforts to push Congress further to the right, particularly when it comes to reproductive health. Now with the 2016 election cycle underway, the caucus’ political action committee, the House Freedom Fund, seems to be working just as tirelessly to ensure the caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.

Since its founding by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in January 2015, the group of ultra-conservative lawmakers that make up the caucus has ballooned from just nine members to at least 36 members, as of October 2015, who have confirmed their own inclusion—though the group keeps its official roster secret. These numbers may seem small, but they pack a punch in the House, where they have enough votes to block major legislation pushed by other parts of the Republican party.

And now, the group is seeking to add to its ranks in order to wield even more power in Congress.

“The goal is to grow it by, and I think it’s realistic, to grow it by 20 to 30 members,” Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), one of HFC’s founding members, told Politico in April. “All new members.”

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While the caucus itself reportedly does not endorse candidates, its unofficial PAC has already thrown money behind defending the seats of some of the group’s most notoriously anti-choice members, as well as a few new faces.

According to, the Center for Responsive Politics’ campaign finance database, thus far in 2016, the House Freedom Fund has invested in seven congressional candidates currently vying to keep a seat in the House of Representatives: Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R-TN), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). The PAC’s website also highlights two candidates hoping to move from their state legislatures to the House: Republican Indiana state senator Jim Banks and Georgia state Senator Mike Crane. The PAC is also backing the Republican candidate for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, Mary Thomas; and Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, Ted Budd.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), who won a special election in early June to replace former House speaker John Boehner, also received funding from the PAC. He joined the House Freedom Caucus that same week.

The Republican Party actively works to deny access to virtually all forms of reproductive health care, so it is not surprising that the candidates supported by the House Freedom Fund, whose confirmed members are all members of the GOP, share similarly radical views on reproductive rights and health.

Here are some of the House Freedom Fund’s most alarming candidates:

Rep. Rod Blum

Rep. Blum, a freshman congressman from Iowa, considers his opposition to reproductive choice one of the “cornerstones” of his campaign. “It is unconscionable that government would aid in the taking of innocent life. I strongly oppose any federal funding for abortion and I will vote against any of our tax dollars flowing to groups who perform or advocate abortions on demand,” asserts Blum’s campaign site. The Hyde Amendment already bans most federal funding for abortion care.

Blum spent much of his first year in the House attempting to push through a series of anti-choice bills. The representative co-sponsored the medically unsupported Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have enacted a federal ban on abortion at or beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, in January 2015. He signed on as a co-sponsor for the failed Life at Conception Act, a so-called personhood measure that would have granted legal rights to fetuses and zygotes, thus potentially outlawing abortion and many forms of contraception, in March of that year. That July, Blum co-sponsored the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which would have stripped the reproductive health organization of all federal funding for one year so that Congress could investigate it in the wake of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos smearing the provider. 

Blum’s co-sponsorship of anti-choice legislation was accompanied by a long series of like-minded votes throughout 2015, such as a January vote in favor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, which, among other things, would have made the Hyde Amendment’s annually renewed ban on most federal funding for abortion care permanent. He also voted to block Washington, D.C.’s Reproductive Health non-discrimination law, and in favor of a measure allowing states to exclude from Medicaid funding any health provider that provided abortions, as well as other anti-choice measures.

Blum’s brief time in Congress has been marked by such extremism that Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect pro-choice women, put Blum on their “On Notice” list in July 2015, signaling their intention to prioritize unseating the Iowa Representative. “In less than five months into the 114th Congress, we have seen Representative Blum lead the crusade to restrict women’s access to healthcare, most notably when he cosponsored a national abortion ban,” explained the organization in a press release on its decision to target Blum. “It’s clear that Congressman Blum is more focused on prioritizing an extreme ideological agenda over enacting policies that benefit more women and families in Iowa’s First Congressional District.”

Rep. Dave Brat

Rep. Dave Brat gained notoriety for his win against incumbent representative and then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, a victory considered one of “the biggest political upset[s] in recent memory.” Like many of his HFC colleagues, Brat has co-sponsored several pieces of anti-choice legislation, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2015 and the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which claimed to “protect” against “governmental discrimination against providers of health services” who refuse to provide abortion care. Brat’s voting record in Congress earned him a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.

In April of this year, the Virginia representative signed on to a letter with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other anti-choice legislators, such as House Freedom Fund candidate Rep. Meadows expressing “serious concerns” about the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to update the label of abortion drug mifepristone to bring it in line with scientific research and evidence-based medicine. Though medication abortions are safe and result in complications in fewer than 0.4 percent of patients, the lawmakers nonetheless claimed that the regulation change could be dangerous, noting that the drug was originally approved during the Clinton administration and demanding a list of information about it.

In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility in November, when the alleged shooter parroted the same violent rhetoric about the reproductive health organization popularized by the CMP’s discredited videos, many in Congress called for the panel investigating Planned Parenthood to be disbanded and for lawmakers to distance themselves from the videos. Brat, however, saw no reason the anti-choice violence should affect the conservative crusade to shut down access to reproductive health care. “Principles are principles,” Brat said at the time according to the Huffington Post. “They don’t change on a news cycle.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been an anti-choice advocate since graduate school, when, according to the biography provided on his website, he was “active in assisting women in crisis pregnancies” while working toward a doctoral degree at American University. His advocacy continued as he made his way to Congress, eventually leading him to become the congressional “Pro-Life Caucus” whip.

Though he has cast plenty of anti-choice votes, the congressman’s most notable moment when it comes to reproductive rights may be a 2012 speech on the House floor, in when he compared abortion to slavery and accused Planned Parenthood and the Obama administration of being racist. “Perhaps the biggest war against our liberties is the war that is being waged against those that are not here today, the unborn,” claimed Huelskamp. “Besides slavery, abortion is the other darkest stain on our nation’s character and this president is looking for every way possible to make abortion more available and more frequent. And he wants you to pay for it. Even if you disagree with it.”

Huelskamp went on to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of targeting people of color. “I am the adoptive father of four children, each of them either Black, Hispanic, Native American, and I am incensed that this president pays money to an entity that was created for the sole purpose of killing children that look like mine; a racist organization and it continues to target minorities for abortion destruction,” said the congressman. “Shame on this president and shame on that party.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Huelskamp exploited race in order to promote his anti-choice agenda. In 2015, the Kansas Representative lashed out at those who accepted awards from Planned Parenthood, tweeting that they were supporting a “racist” agenda.

Rep. Mark Meadows

Rep. Mark Meadows, who has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, co-sponsored anti-choice measures such as the House’s 2015 fetal pain bill, the 2015 Life at Conception Act, and the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016 (PRENDA). He also once badgered a pregnant doctor testifying during a House committee hearing about the importance of offering maternity coverage through the Affordable Care Act. However, the congressman’s recent vendetta against Planned Parenthood stands out the most.

In July 2015, in the wake of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, Meadows latched onto the discredited films in order to justify defunding Planned Parenthood. “In addition to cutting funding for abortion providers, I strongly urge Congress to investigate the legality of the practices engaged in by Planned Parenthood,” said Meadows at the time.

In September, as Congress faced the looming threat of a possible government shutdown if they didn’t pass a budget bill, Meadows exploited the opportunity to push for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, no matter the cost. With the South Carolina congressman leading the charge, pressure from conservatives to pull funding for the reproductive health-care provider played a role in prompting then-House Speaker John Boehner to resign his position. Meadows was a co-sponsor of the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which passed in the House as part of a compromise to narrowly escape the shutdown. 

But Meadows’ quest to attack Planned Parenthood didn’t end there. In September, the congressman also participated in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing to “examine the use of taxpayer funding” by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, a sham hearing used by the GOP to repeatedly push misinformation about the organization.

Rep. Scott Desjarlais

Rep. Scott Desjarlais, a medical doctor, is perhaps best known for his attempt to pressure his patient, with whom he was having an affair, into having an abortion when she became pregnant. While the congressman has repeatedly run on his anti-abortion credentials, his divorce papers also revealed he had supported his wife in having two abortions. Politico‘s Chas Sisk labeled DeJarlais  “the biggest hypocrite in Congress.”

Desjarlais made headlines again in 2015 for voting for a later abortion ban. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Republican told the Times Free Press that the vote was in accordance with the congressman’s record:

“Congressman DesJarlais was proud to vote in favor of this legislation,” said his spokesman Robert Jameson, who added that DesJarlais has maintained a “100 percent pro-life voting record” during his five years in Congress and “has always advocated for pro-life values.”

Indiana State Sen. Jim Banks

Indiana state Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) is one of the few candidates backed by the House Freedom Fund that has yet to win federal office, but his time in the state legislature has given him more than ample opportunity to demonstrate his opposition to reproductive health and rights.

Banks’ campaign website highlights the candidate’s “pro-life” position as a key issue for his race for the House, providing an extensive record of his anti-choice credentials and claiming that he is “running for Congress so that northeast Indiana continues to have a strong voice for innocent lives in Washington, D.C.” That page includes a laundry list of campaign promises, including amending the U.S. Constitution to give a fetus legal human rights, which could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception; banning federal funding for abortion, though such a ban already exists; eliminating federal funding for any organization that performs abortions domestically or abroad; and opposing any change to the Republican platform on abortion.

The state senator’s site goes on to suggest that “it has been far too long since the Supreme Court discovered that women have a ‘right’ to have an abortion,” lamenting that much of the anti-choice movement’s work to shutter access to abortion in state legislatures hasn’t been replicated on a federal level and promising to address the issue if elected.

Included in his anti-choice resumé is a note that both Banks and his wife have been working in the movement to oppose choice since graduating college, when the two joined Focus on the Family, an organization that has spent millions of dollars promoting its extreme agenda, even devoting $2.5 million to run an anti-abortion ad during the 2010 Super Bowl. The two also worked together on the Allen County Right to Life Board of Directors, and Banks’ wife, Amanda, remains the board’s vice president.

But most extreme of all was the legislation Banks spearheaded while in the state legislature, which included several targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) measures. Most recently the state senator sponsored Indiana’s SB 144, a bill that would modify the state’s 20-week abortion ban to outlaw the procedure once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, typically around six weeks’ gestation. In a statement on the bill, Banks claimed the law was needed because it “would protect unborn Hoosiers’ right to life and also includes important women’s health protections.”

News Politics

Ted Cruz Doubles Down on False Claim That ‘Nobody Is Suggesting Banning Birth Control’

Ally Boguhn

Cruz has been a vocal proponent of defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides millions of people with access to contraception.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), facing criticism from conservatives, claimed that his comments about the availability of contraception and its role in his family had been taken out of context, but insisted that the GOP is not hell-bent on eliminating access to birth control for millions of people.

Cruz, in an interview last week with Catholic news network EWTN, defended comments he made at a campaign event while responding to an audience member who questioned the GOP’s policies on access to contraception. Cruz, speaking at the December event in Iowa, provided an anecdote about how his family only had two children, and preferred it that way, as evidence that Republicans weren’t trying to end access to birth control.

“Now listen, I have been a conservative my entire life,” Cruz said at the time. “I have never met anybody, any conservative who wants to ban contraceptives.”

Speaking with EWTN lead anchor Raymond Arroyo on Thursday, Cruz was forced to explain his statements when the host played back the senator’s comments and noted that “some larger families took offense at that statement, they say it’s less than pro-life.”

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Cruz suggested that the comments from the event had been taken out of context. He claimed that he had been joking about a “political attack” from Democrats alleging that Republican lawmakers were trying to ban birth control, which he asserted is a “deliberately deceptive” attack.

“I am unequivocally pro-life, I think every life is a precious gift from God that needs to be protected from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death,” Cruz explained. “But the Democrats didn’t wage that battle on the issue of life; instead they did it on contraceptives, and it was deliberately deceptive, they were trying to scare young women into thinking some politician is going to come take their birth control away from them.”

“Nobody is suggesting banning birth control,” Cruz concluded.

Republicans have long championed rolling back access to contraception, having gone as far as to threaten to hold the federal government hostage to attempt to block the Affordable Care Act’s contraception benefit.

Thanks in part to the GOP’s efforts to restrict funding, ten states prohibit certain entities, such as those that may provide abortion services, from receiving funding for family planning. House Republicans in June 2015 attempted to cut all federal funding for Title X, the only federal program devoted specifically to providing low-income people with family planning services such as contraception.

Cruz has worked tirelessly to roll back access to contraception. The senator in 2015 pledged support for Georgia Right to Life’s “personhood” legislation, which defines life as starting at fertilization and could outlaw many common forms of birth control if enacted.

Cruz has also been a vocal proponent of defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides millions of people with access to contraception, and praised Texas’ decision to pull Medicaid funding from the organization while encouraging other states to do the same.

To avoid addressing the issues, Cruz pivoted to allege that Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns at the center of a court battle against the ACA’s contraception benefit, is being forced to pay for “abortion-inducing drugs” under the federal law. Cruz has made similar statements suggesting a false equivalence between hormonal birth control methods and abortion care.

As Rewire legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo explained, Little Sisters of the Poor has no legal duty to provide contraception, and even if the group loses its case against the ACA’s contraception mandate, “it still won’t have to provide its employees with contraception coverage, and there’s nothing the administration can do about it.”