Senate women draw the line on budget talks

Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-NY (Image: Flickr/isafmedia)

Female members of the U.S. Senate made clear Friday that they had no intention of “throwing women under the bus” by giving in to Republican demands to approve several policy riders attached to a budget bill designed to keep the federal government operational.

“Since they (Republicans) don’t know how to create jobs, they’ve changed the topic to their radical approach to the budget,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland). “And it is radical. They’ve cut $1 billion at the National Institutes of Health, $1 billion dollars from Head Start, $50 million from prenatal care — the changed the topic from jobs since they didn’t know how to do it.

“Then they said, ‘Oh, we are going to fight to bring down the debt and the deficit.’ And that hasn’t worked out because, to their surprise, we had specific, immediate, achievable ways to become a more frugal government. Since they lost that fight, they want to change the topic again so that all we are talking about is a radical, ideological agenda in riders. … Let’s get back to what we should be talking about: How to avoid a shutdown.”

The numerous policy riders attached to the bill, Mikulski said, can be voted on another day, and do not have to be a part of a budget discussion.

Perhaps the most contentious of the riders attached by the GOP was a complete ban of all federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

“This is not about abortion,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York). “Republicans need to wake up. Since the Hyde Amendment of the last 30 years, federal money does not pay for abortions in this country. What they are cutting in this bill is the safety-net for poor, at-risk women for pre-cancer screenings, for prenatal care, for early detection of STDs — for all the types of safety-nets that keep our families safe.

“This is unacceptable and we will draw the line in the Senate.” In the end, Senate women and other Democrats prevailed on that issue and a shutdown was averted.

The frustration being voiced by the women of the Senate was also present in a prepared statement issued Friday by U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat who represents Iowa’s 2nd District.

“As a government shutdown looms, politicians in Washington are still wrapped up in political Russian roulette where the clear loser is Iowans,” Loebsack said. “Instead of shutting down the government in an effort to restrict women’s access to health care, we need to think about our military families who are worried about how they are going to put food on the table, even while their loved ones are defending our nation overseas.

“A government shutdown can still be averted, but the grandstanding and misplaced debates about social policy must be put aside. We must work together toward a compromise that addresses the needs of our constituents, and keeps our economic recovery on track. Time is running short — I call on Congress and the President to put our constituents ahead of politics.”

In a Facebook posting Friday, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland called the situation “an outrage” that “hurts women,” and noted that more than 54,000 women in Iowa and Nebraska would lose access to screenings and preventative health care if the policy rider barring federal money for Planned Parenthood remains intact.

Although the policy rider in connection with Planned Parenthood has been one of the most discussed and contentious items attached to the budget bill, it is far from the only attachment to H.R. 1, the continuing resolution passed by the U.S. House on Feb. 19. Other riders have included a prohibition of funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, limitations on the FDA’s ability to transfer funds, stalling a transfer from the Federal Reserve for the creation of the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection and development of a government-sponsored “consumer products complaints database,” prohibits funds for the U.S. Department of Education for regulations on Gainful Employment, stalls funding for several environmental and conservations programs including the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, prohibits funding for the implementation of health care reform provisions, halts funding for capital advances or rental assistance contracts for HUD Housing for the Elderly projects and bars the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

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