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Exclusive: Taxpayers Face $1.59 Million Bill for Anti-Choice Congressional Investigation

Christine Grimaldi

Expanding the budget for an investigative panel tasked with targeting abortion providers and fetal tissue researchers marks one of the first actions House Republicans will pursue as they return to a radically different Washington after Election Day.

Congressional Republicans investigating widely discredited claims that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations are pursuing an additional $800,000 in funding—more than doubling the total cost of the investigation to $1.59 million.

The new infusion comes on top of the $790,000 the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has been allocated to date. If approved, the total will exceed the $1.2 million projection that a high-ranking GOP aide in the U.S. House of Representatives provided to Rewire in July. The latest round will likely continue to follow the House’s informal two-thirds/one-third funding split between the majority and minority parties.

Expanding the budget for the select panel marks one of the first actions House Republicans will pursue as they return to a radically different Washington after Election Day. Most attention remains on GOP President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to fill top administration positions, as well as his comments about endangering reproductive rights.

Alongside the funding request, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel and a newly minted member of Trump’s transition team, is pursuing information from another provider of later abortion care.

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The House Administration Committee, which oversees the chamber’s operating budgets, is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 5 p.m. to consider a resolution for the additional $800,000. The Republican-led committee’s expected approval will advance the resolution directly to the House floor for consideration likely the week after Thanksgiving, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The aide told Rewire in a phone interview that Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the select panel, approached their GOP counterparts on the Administration Committee last week. The Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans specified the full $800,000 would go to the select panel, the aide said.

Democrats knew generally about the impending request last week, according to the aide, but only learned of the amount Monday when they returned to Washington following the presidential election.

“The amount was substantially larger than we anticipated,” the aide said, adding that the $800,000 would likely cover past expenses.

The select panel previously drew the $790,000 from the $1 million the Administration Committee sets aside each Congress to supplement operating budgets. In doing so, the panel tapped nearly 80 percent of House’s available supplemental funding—including 98 percent of the funds that were available for 2016.

The Democratic aide did not know from where Republicans would draw the extra $800,000.

Spokespeople for Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) were not immediately available for comment. Upton, a once-vocal proponent of the fetal tissue research targeted under the investigation, has sought to distance himself from the panel’s work. He would not answer Rewire’s question steps from the House floor in September about whether the Energy and Commerce Committee would advance the panel’s contempt charges against a fetal tissue procurement firm, in keeping with standard House operating procedures.

Even as panel officials have said the investigation is nearing an end, Blackburn has continued to expand her initial inquiries into fetal tissue procurement and research to focus on later abortion care. Six days before the election, she targeted a prominent Colorado-based provider for “communications and documents,” including details related to patients with gestations longer than 22 weeks, according to the Daily Camera, a local news outlet.

A spokesperson for panel Republicans early Monday confirmed the request but would not comment further. Republicans did not release the inquiry in the days leading up to the election “at the direction of the chair,” the spokesperson said. “We believe it’s an important request, but she did not want to publicize it and politicize the issue right before an election.”

The spokesperson would not comment on funding questions, only saying that Republicans were focused on writing their report and concluding their investigation by the end of the year. In the wake of the election, the anti-choice group Operation Rescue called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to extend the investigation into the 115th Congress. Doing so would require the House to vote on a new resolution after the new Congress begins in January 2017.

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