CONTRACEPTIVE COVERAGE: Rider Dropped From Spending Bill
The "ground-breaking provision to require federal health plans to cover the cost of five commonly used contraceptives" was "jettisoned" yesterday by "Republican Congressional leaders" eager to wrap up work on fiscal 1999 spending bills and avoid a government shutdown looming this weekend. The contraceptive coverage mandate, "along with three other controversial provisions," was dropped from the $13.4 billion Treasury-Postal spending bill. However, it was the only one of the measures "that had won bipartisan support in both the House and Senate," the Los Angeles Times reports. The move to drop the measure came after "heavy lobbying by a core group of antiabortion House conservatives." The bill's sponsor, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), called the move an "outrage." She said, "A majority of the House supported this provision, the Senate supported it and the Republican (House) leadership tried to kill it at every turn" (Rubin, 10/8). "The Republican leaders should be ashamed of themselves," she said (Seelye, New York Times, 10/8).
The Washington Post reports that the House voted 290-137 to pass the stripped-down bill (Barr/Hager, 10/8). But by a 226-202 roll call vote, the House decided to drop the contraceptive measure. Twenty-three Democrats and 203 Republicans voted against the contraceptive measure, while 180 Democrats, 21 Republicans and one independent voted to keep the rider attached to the spending bill ( AP/Alabama Live, 10/8).
The New York Times reports that Lowey and others are hoping "that the Senate, which is to vote on the treasury-postal bill" today, "could preserve the provision." If that does not happen, supporters hope "the White House would insist that it be part of a final omnibus package that wraps up a number of difficult issues." Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) "said House Democrats had urged the administration to press for the contraceptive measure in the final negotiations," and said conversations he overheard indicated that the provision would survive (10/8).
The Wall Street Journal reports that the measure "has been seen as a way" for Republican moderates "to soften the party's hard-edged, anti-abortion image with women voters in the fall elections." The provision was also being carefully watched by the private sector, "as government programs are often a model for the private sector" (Rogers, 10/8). The Los Angeles Times reports that the jettisoning of the measure "was viewed as a setback to efforts to provide broader coverage for women" (10/8). Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, called the GOP leadership's move "a critical blow to women's reproductive health," charging that the "House leadership bowed to pressure from the more extreme element of their party." She said, "Today's action is an example of just how much anti-family planning members are out of step with the majority of Americans. It also expressed the hypocrisy of those who oppose abortion while opposing contraception" (NARAL release, 10/7). However, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) said that passing the larger appropriations bill took precedence. "I support the contraceptive provision. I wanted it in the bill, but I also wanted to get the bill passed" (Los Angeles Times, 10/8).